How many times have you heard people say that the idea of “higher-order thinking” comes from “Bloom’s Taxonomy”?
Well, in handbook 1 of the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, published in 1956, Benjamin Bloom and colleagues do not once use the phrase “higher-order thinking” or “higher-order learning.” The phrase “higher order” comes up only once, on page 10.
What’s more, the authors make clear that the more complex forms of thinking depend on the simpler kinds (such as factual knowledge). On page 16, they write:
One may take the Gestalt point of view that the complex behavior is more than the sum of the simpler behaviors, or one may view the complex behavior as being completely analyzable into simpler components. But either way, so long as the simpler behaviors may be viewed as components of the more complex behaviors, we can view the educational process as one of building on the simpler behavior.
Building on it? You mean we can’t just skip over it? Bloom and colleagues would say no. They devote considerable space to the discussion of knowledge–its justification and its different forms and levels. The justifications for teaching knowledge, according to the others, include the following (from pp. 32-34):
1. “Perhaps the most common justification,” they write, “is that with increase in knowledge or information there is a development of one’s own acquaintance with reality.” In other words, to know about the world, one has to learn something about it.
2. It is essential for all other purposes in education. “Problem solving or thinking cannot be carried on in a vacuum,” they write, “but must be based upon knowledge of some of the ‘realities.'”
3. Knowledge has status in our culture; it is often associated with maturity and intelligence.
4. Knowledge can often be taught and assessed simply.
They discuss each of these justifications at length. From there, they bring up questions of stable and changing knowledge; interrelated versus isolated facts; students’ immediate and future needs; and more. They describe three levels of knowledge (which they break down into subcategories): knowledge of specifics; knowledge of ways and means of dealing with specifics; and knowledge of the universals and abstractions in a field. Much of this knowledge involves and includes quite a bit of complex thought.
Nowhere do they imply that knowledge gets in the way of complex thinking or that the latter can do without the former. Of course, each new situation demands unforeseen combinations of knowledge and method; it is impossible to prepare a student perfectly for the future. “It is possible, however,” they write, “to help him acquire that knowledge which has been found most useful in the past, and to help him develop those intellectual abilities and skills which will enable him to adapt that knowledge to new situations.”
Bloom and his colleagues are not gods; the fact that the Taxonomy says this does not make it truth. But what’s clear here is that the Taxonomy does NOT encourage teachers to stop emphasizing knowledge. Those who claim that the knowledge emphasis belongs to the “industrial age” are welcome to say what they wish, but the Taxonomy, if given the floor, would likely disagree.