Treat Critical Thinking as Concrete Subject Matter in Illinois Public Schools

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Target: Illinois State Board of Education Chair Gery Chico

Goal: Treat and teach critical thinking as a subject on par with reading and math.

Illinois public schools teach the same standard subjects as most public schools in this country. As teachers go through the curriculum they include some assignments or exercises which involve critical thinking. However, even that occurs less often than it used to because teachers are dedicating more time preparing their students to do well on standardized tests. In either case many students earn their high school diploma without developing strong critical thinking skills. Such students do not know how to tell a strong argument from a weak one, have trouble knowing when to trust an information source and when to be skeptical of it, and often do not know how to approach important life decisions. This demonstrates a need for Illinois public schools to teach critical thinking as its own subject, just like reading and math, not something that only gets attention if and when there is time.

There are a number of components of critical thinking that can be taught at different ages and in different classes. A good starting point is to get students to understand what an argument is, how to recognize one, how to analyze one, and how to form one. It is also important that they learn how to evaluate a source for reliability by determining if it is primary or secondary, objective or subjective, etc. Teaching of these two topics should begin by middle school, when kids will have the ability to understand such concepts. By the time students reach high school they can learn about other areas of critical thinking that might have been too difficult before. These might include psychology, ethics, and general philosophy. One area of particular importance is decision making and career exploration. Many students leave school with only a faint idea of what they might like to do afterward. If they took a class in high school which helped them discover what matters to them in a career, they could make much better choices.

Public schools exist because we want our children to understand the world around them, how to function in it, and how to choose their role in it. We also want them to participate in democracy, in how their communities and government operate. They cannot do these things at their best without having strong thinking skills; we cannot merely teach them what to think, but how to think as individuals. This requires more than just an analytical exercise here or there; it must be addressed head-on.

By signing the petition below, you will urge the Illinois State Board of Education to develop plans for teaching critical thinking as its own subject.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Illinois State Board of Education Chair Gery Chico,

Illinois has traditionally taught critical thinking in public schools only in the context of some other subject area. With the increased focus on standardized testing that has occurred lately, the degree to which it is taught has only diminished. The result is that many students earn their high school diploma without knowing how to tell a strong argument from a weak one, knowing when to trust an information source and when to be skeptical of it, nor how to approach important life decisions like choosing a career.

What we see is that a lack of critical thinking skills means a lack of a proper education. Students need to understand the world and choose their place in it. We want them to participate in democracy, in how their communities and their government operate. We want them to choose meaningful careers which they are skilled at.

This lack cannot be filled with the current teaching method. Critical thinking must be more than a subset taught as a part of other subjects. We must treat it as a subject unto itself on par with math and reading. I am writing to urge the Board to do just that. Moreover, the Board should make it a policy that specific classes in subjects such as evaluating arguments, evaluating information sources, and understanding decision-making be required beginning in middle school and continuing on through high school.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

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50 Signatures

  • Hermann Kastner
  • Muhammad Kamal
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