Critical thinking without knowledge is impossible

27 Apr

Arizona has passed a law requiring high school pass the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization civics test for graduation. Let me state, that I have no firm position on if this is a good idea. However, I can recognize a bad argument against it.

This is the argument made by Joseph Kahne in Education Weekthat schools should be teaching critical thinking instead of knowledge:

“Democracy thrives when citizens think critically and deeply about civic and political issues, when they consider the needs and priorities of others, and when they engage in informed action—not when they memorize a few facts. Let’s make high-quality civic learning a priority. Let’s not take the easy way out and pass laws in more than a dozen states that turn civic education into a game of Trivial Pursuit.”

The problem with this argument is that it is contrary to the evidence. Research on critical thinking and other higher order skills shows that deep knowledge is a necessary prerequisite.

I agree that a curriculum that only focuses on the memorization of facts is impoverished. But a curriculum that tries to teach higher order skills without the requisite knowledge is impossible.

You can take a sample citizenship test here. The questions are pretty easy and really do seem like things a citizen should know.

 

For more details on the importance of memory in education see the second chapter of my book.

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