One of the tasks I do at one of my sites is assist middle- and junior-high students with critical thinking/character building activities.
Working with 4th through 8th graders, I am constantly amazed at how far too many kids don’t really know “how” to think reflectively. When given a quote to respond to on paper, the majority of students hit a brick wall, and were not skilled to verbalize clearly, if at all.
For example, one of the quotes was Gandhi’s “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Students were asked to show how this statement applies to their lives, in more than just a sentence or two. First of all, they didn’t understand what the statement meant. [These were 7th and 8th graders.] Then, they went on to just re-copy the words. Or, they were unable to formulate any thoughts beyond that sentence or two without expressing frustration, extreme fidgeting, and/or being terribly grammatically incorrect. Anything that required looking beyond the surface of an obvious answer was uncharted territory, and they were stymied.
Even whole-class discussions before the writing proved fruitless, as the simple rules of courteous dialogue weren’t followed. It’s difficult to share ideas when students constantly horn in and belittle, instead of listening to each other.
Rather than get upset, I held brief one-on-ones with the more willing students to find out where their heads were at. For starters, most of them had never heard of Gandhi, or his accomplishments. Then, they didn’t feel it was important to be an agent for change; they were more pre-occupied with iPods, and new shoes. They actually saw “thinking” or reflecting as being “too hard” or just busywork. What they wanted was more mindless worksheets, where supplying the “right” responses was equated with true learning in their minds.
Practicing expository writing with clarity and purpose outside of standardized tests had little or new appeal, and showed up in their finished products. Rather than learn to see revising and editing as steps on the journey of critical thinking, they went for the easiest way out– just fill up a page with words, whether they related to the quote or not. To them, seeing a full page meant “getting the work done,” not expressing a personal idea.
What concerns me is that being educated nowadays has shifted focus from being a well-rounded individual who is productive, into becoming a reservoir of hollow facts ready to spout off at any time, only to “sound” smart, but not really understand.
Most were able to recite the latest lyrics, ad slogans, and current slang, but overall, incapable of answering the deeper “why” questions, feeling that this skill is not really necessary for academic success. How sad it is that they are missing out…..