• Jonathan

Thinking Through the Summit Strike - 1

Getting back to the subject of this blog, to see what a critical-thinking informed approach to issues in education might look like, consider a story that was in the news a few weeks ago: student walkouts and strikes at schools that have implemented the charter-school originated, Facebook-supported Summit Learning program.

This story generated substantial news coverage, which is valuable critical-thinking-wise since background knowledge plays a key role when applying critical-thinking techniques to real-world situations, rather than logical abstractions (such as all Ps being Qs).

The use of such symbols forms the basis of formal logic, one of the most powerful tools for thinking ever devised (just ask any philosopher or computer programmer). But most critical-thinking courses and programs focus on informal logic which takes into account both the structure of an argument and the meaning of the words – i.e., the content – that makes up the argument.

Fortunately, a wide variety of news sources – some more biased than others – have covered the Summit story, which can get you to the starting point of any critical-thinking exercise: knowing what you’re talking about.

Having just mentioned bias, the next technique to draw from the critical-thinker’s tool bag is identification and control for the prejudices we might bring to a discussion, especially over controversial issues.

If you read news stories covering the Summit strike, or editorials, letters to the editor and comments replying to online news pieces, you will see certain biases predominate. For example, many critics of Summit characterize it as an attempt by Silicon Valley to shove educational models developed on their white boards down the throats of teachers and students across the country.

Supporters of Summit highlight the many dedicated educators involved with its development, as well as the role of an educational non-profit, rather than the for-profit corporation, in disseminating the program. They also frequently highlight the benefits of personalized learning models that underlie Summit’s approach, which pinpoints another bias we should be on the lookout for: the tendency of educational reformers to think well of efforts that disrupt traditional factory-based models of education, regardless of the efficacy of any particular program.

When I introduced the notion of bias, I indicated that it is something that needs to be identified and controlled for, rather than eliminated. One of the reasons for this is practical, given that the human species is prone to a wide variety of cognitive biases that might be hard-wired into our brains. But identification and control vs. elimination also takes into account that pre-existing beliefs can be rational.

High-tech entrepreneurs ignoring or overriding the wishes of students, parents and teachers is a legitimate concern, after all, as is belief that current factory-style models of education are outdated and not appropriate for teaching and learning subjects and skills relevant to the twenty-first vs. the nineteenth century. Yet starting and finishing analysis of important issues from a standpoint of even reasonable hardened beliefs can limit our ability to see or believe things that might conflict with them.

To be continued…