Social studies teachers are discussing whether to teach students to love their country or sneer at it, says the Chicago Tribune. I think the story sets up a false dichotomy: Either teachers can teach “critical thinking” or teach facts.
The topic of class discussion was “Iraqification”–a term associated with the transfer of responsibility for Iraq’s security from American soldiers to the Iraqi people — and the students did not lack opinions on the subject.
Leading the Advanced Placement World History lab at Noble Street Charter High School in Chicago, teacher Joe Tenbusch asked his students at what time during the Iraq conflict more people have been killed.
“After we won,” said Victoria Janik, 16, with a smirk, bringing nods and smiles of agreement from her peers, who had been pondering President Bush’s possible motives for favoring Iraqification.
While some educators might find the exchange valuable–or, at worst, harmless–an outspoken group of social studies teachers around the country say such classroom scenes breed cynical, anti-American attitudes.
High school students, they argue, simply are not mature enough to engage in critical thinking. Teachers should focus on imparting a solid knowledge of history, economics, American traditions and government–in short, the ideals and values of a free society.
Students can’t think critically if they lack knowledge. In this case, the student is right in thinking that U.S. casualties (not “people”) are a factor in the desire to give more authority to Iraqis. The question is whether she knows other facts. How many people did Saddam Hussein kill, directly and indirectly? How did the Occupation go in Germany and Japan after World War II? How did South Korea become a democracy?
Critical thinking is a lot harder than people think, because it requires knowledge.