Consider the way that social sciences are taught. Most U.S. high schools have clearly defined boundaries between history, sociology, economics, and civics. The subject of history is slighted by this approach, since the instruction is primarily centered upon dates, events, and famous people - an approach which favors memorization as a primary learning method. Kids become bored with one of the more fascinating subjects because the teaching is structured as a recitation of facts which must be regurgitated. It would be helpful if the subject of history was more broadly approached in the earlier grades, but most schools just provide a pint-sized version of the same fact-based approach to history.
Early education science teaching suffers the same fate because the scientific method is introduced simply as a definition of terms. The kids can recite the definitions of theory
, but they don't seem to understand the actual meanings of those words (witness the common refrain of referring to evolution as "just a theory"). One of the problems seems to be that some of the best methods for presenting science (and history) are the most difficult to base an evaluation of an individual's performance. With the increasing reliance upon standardized testing as the sole evaluation of a student's aptitude, the teaching of all subjects is being treated as a guide to navigate an obstacle course of multiple choice questions. Science and the process of discovery needs to be experienced in a meaningful, revealing way, not built around a standardized test.
My dream is the direct teaching of the following subjects to children:
• Critical thinking (or perhaps deductive reasoning) - This should stop short of teaching formal logic, but needs to provide the student's with the ability to evaluate arguments and situations forensically. This skill could be introduced as a subset of reading comprehension, but it needs to be emphasized more than it currently is.
• Rhetoric - The companion to critical thinking is the construction of an effective argument of your own. We provide years of education in spelling and grammar, but most of the exercises for using those tools are based around the writing of "What I did on my summer vacation." essays. I would love to see a schoolyard argument dissolved by one child's criticism of the other's ad hominem