Because the Mad Biologist isn’t nearly curmudgeonly enough, especially about things like education [/snark], I thought this post by Ed of Gin and Tacos hit the right notes:
Should our educational system emphasize information retention or “critical thinking?” Here’s the problem. We do neither. Exams like this are no longer given, at least not commonly, but has it been replaced with anything more useful? In my limited experience we are producing wave after wave of students who reach adulthood utterly unable to distinguish between their puckered assholes and a hole in the ground but with access to information they lack the desire or ability to use. They’re loaded to the gunwales with iPhones, laptops, and 24-7 access to all of humanity’s collected knowledge, and they can’t do basic research on Google to save their souls….
There is value in knowing basic facts. Should we be encouraging kids to memorize the 435 members of Congress or pi to 100 places? No, that would be a pure waste of time. But I shit you not – and I wish I could have a student verify this – I just quizzed my Presidency class, all junior and senior political science majors at a college with an average incoming SAT score of 1400, on the Bill of Rights and not one of them named more than half. Not one. Most could only stammer out a partial description of the 1st Amendment, maybe something about the 2nd. This is bad. “Memorization” for the sake of memorization probably would not help our educational system, but can we start sending people to selective universities with a grasp of some incredibly basic goddamn facts? I do not ask a lot. Call it rote memorization if you’d like, but I’m comfortable making a judgment call here: people should know the Bill of Rights.
This is my argument about the educational system in this country as a whole. We have spent 40 years trying to build pretty houses without building a foundation first. If people are not graduating from high school with a grasp of basic math, the ability to intelligibly express a thought in English, and perhaps a rudimentary understanding of American government, nothing else matters. It is all irrelevant if they lack that basic foundation, and trust me, most of the kids I deal with lack the everliving hell out of it.
In my experience, students who are thought to ‘lack critical thinking skills’, once someone takes the time to figure why these skills are missing, actually are lacking a basic educational foundation: you can’t do algebra if your basic arithmetic skills are poor. And I’ll add one thing to the list: a basic understanding of the scientific method (sadly, I think many students have a hard time distinguishing between that and the basic lab report format…).