Saturday, September 21, 2013

Where is Common Core's thinking skills program?

One of the reasons given by proponents of the Common Core, for not requiring particular content knowledge is that they are teaching kids "critical thinking skills." But merely repeating the phrase doesn't constitute a program. In spite of the fact that Common Core proponents like to shake their pom-poms and cheer it on, they don't seem to even know what "critical thinking skills" means, much less have any actual program to teach it.

The first problem is that Common Core proponents don't seem to even know what "critical thinking skills" are. If you want to talk about "critical thinking skills," you should at least be able to define what they are. In all the reading of done on Common Core, I can find a single definition of the term.

You can require that students exercise thinking skills, but how are they going to be able to actually employ them if they never learn them? And how are they going to learn them unless there is some kind of systematic program to teach it to them?

A case in point is a recent post from Susan Weston at the Prichard Committee, who is running a series of posts on the Common Core standards. In her most recent post, she reblogs Stu Silberman's post in Education Week on three of the Common Core reading standards.

One of them reads: "Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence."

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Here is Silberman, commenting on this section:
With a parent or citizen audience, I'd emphasize two points. 
First, Standard 8 is my very favorite part of the whole Common Core process, because it asks students to track the evidence and check whether each author's positions are well grounded in reliable facts and sensible reasoning. To me, that sounds like the basics of citizenship preparation, and close to the root of why America has public schools. 
And second, Standard 8 is my inspiration for this set of blog posts. For those who are wary about Common Core, I urge them to start by reading Common Core. If you think they're wrong for the kids of your state, say which part you think is wrong, quoting from the actual text. Wrestle the real document and the real evidence, and don't settle for anyone else's summary.
Okay, fine. So maybe Stu or Susan can tell me how the Common Core is going to teach this ability to "delineate and evaluate" an argument? How is a student going to learn how to "check whether each author's positions are well grounded in ... sensible reasoning." And what is "sensible reasoning"? Most importantly, where in the standards does it outline the method by which it is going to teach students how to determine "validity"?

There are certain specific things a student has to know in order to deter the validity of an argument. In categorical reasoning, one has to know how many terms an argument has and that they are not equivocal. He has to know the four kinds of logical statements and whether the terms are distributed in each subject and predicate. He then has to know the rules for validity and be able to apply them to actual arguments.

If the reasoning is hypothetical, then he has to know, given the particular structure of the argument, which term (the antecedent or consequent) he can affirm or deny in order to derive the correct conclusion.

Where in the standards are these things required of students so that they would actually have the capability to determine the validity of an argument? Where is this process taught to teachers who will be implementing the standards? And is it reasonable to expect a K-5 student to be able to do this, much less a 6-12th grade student who has never had any training in logic?

The only way to determine validity of an argument is to use logic, and no mention is made in the standards of whether or how it is going to be taught. Unless there is some procedure for teaching students how to actually determine validity of arguments, then all the talk about "validity" is meaningless and ineffectual.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Teach, what does delineate mean? Google it on your I Pad, kid.