Content, Critical Thinking and Creativity in Education
I divide each Social Studies unit into content and conceptual mastery, analysis and creative interpretation because public education as a k-12 and beyond system has three primary objectives:
1. To impart a body of knowledge and academic skills deemed valuable by society.
2. To teach the students to think analytically, critically and independently.
3. To render the students capable of having original insights and pursuing the discovery of new knowledge or invention.
The first goal has been delved into depth by educational researchers and gurus like E.D. Hirsh of “Cultural Literacy” fame, Chester Finn, William Bennett, Diane Ravitch and others, and is reflected in such legislation as NCLB, which has put tremendous pressure on school districts to focus on test scores in a Math and Reading and expanding the amount of instructional time in those subjects in the curriculum by increasing the time spent on rote memorization exercises and skill-based drills. Breadth but not depth.
This has proven to have adverse effects, causing original supporters of NCLB like Diane Ravitch to change their position and call for the law’s repeal or modification of the law. Another effort at education reform, the Common Core Standards have been implemented by 45 states to increase content depth and the amount of reading in non-fiction content areas. like science and history.
The second goal is reflected in what used to be termed ” liberal education” or “Great Books” programs or the upper tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Schools do this less effectively across the nation but there is still a fair emphasis on eliciting critical thinking in public education, most of all in Honors and AP classes, gifted and talented classes and special programs like and Paideia and International Baccalaureate though all students benefit from learning critical thinking skills. Colleges and universities, of course, are also intended to focus on liberal education but the degree to which this is true in practice has declined since the 1960′s.
The final objective, made possible by the teaching of creative thinking, divergent thinking and synthesis to students, public education as a system does not do well at all at present, here or in any industrialized nation, where measurable declines in the creativity and problem-solving abilities of k-12 students appear across the board. Some people even consider creative thinking to be inimical to mastering content or logical analysis; this is untrue. One cannot think creatively or engage in analysis without content knowledge and content is itself meaningless unless the student can effectively put it to use in the real world. Content knowledge, critical thinking and creativity are like the three legs of a stool – our students need them all.