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Who Wouldn’t Want Students to Learn Critical Thinking Skills?

I mentioned this on some social networks the other day, but thought I’d post it here as well.

I recently got a call from an automated polling service, which promised me a trip for two to the Bahamas if I would complete the short political survey. I pressed the number for “yes,” more out of curiosity than a burning desire for the Bahamas.

Here are the first two questions, as I remember them.

Question #1, What issues should the presidential candidates be most concerned with in the 2012 campaign?

  1. Rising gasoline prices
  2. U.S. involvement in the Middle East
  3. Staggering unemployment
  4. Health care reform.

I pressed “4″ and to my surprise, was asked the same question again. I pressed “4″ again, and the same question was repeated. This time I answered “3″ and the poll continued on to the next question.

Question #2, Where do you get most of your political news?

  1. CNN
  2. Fox News
  3. The New York Times
  4. (I don’t remember what 4 was)

I pressed “3″ and the same question was repeated. It was at this point that I hung up.

Now the critical thinker in me first considers whether the survey automation server is broken. Then I wonder, if it’s not broken, and this exchange was designed, then why? What might someone have to gain by contriving this exchange?

I won’t delve further into the same conclusions that most of you have already made.

Critical thinkers see through manipulations and perhaps might even extend their scepticism to question any and all political survey findings of a similar political tilt — in which case, this type of information fixing would backfire.

My reason for including this story here is that we are told by almost all quarters that..

..They want schools to help their children become critical thinkers.

I mean, “Who wouldn’t?”

New Development: 

Yesterday (May 29) I got an automated call from “Independent Survey Group” asking me the same questions as above and accepting my left-wing Obama’esque answers. Then a human voice came on the line, evidently to offer me two way tickets to the Bahamas. Go figure!


  • Sara Carter

    Um. Liberty University?

  • Jo M

    Ms. Carter’s answer while needlessly insulting and lacking in evidence does point us to the next phase of inquiry. What exactly are critical thinking skills? If we as educators had to make an operationalized definition of critical thinking, what would it be?

    Another question is when would we not want critical thinking skills? Sport practice drills are designed to squelch the “why” question when speed and instinct is needed. Critical thought is sometimes sacrificed to prepare for advanced critical thinking skills. For example, students study angles in algebra class (and for their SATs). Teachers stress for them to show the steps when they work. They will even deduct points if students do not show their work. Are the students thinking critically at this stage? No, they are plugging in numbers into prescribed steps. However, the process is worth more than the product at this point in learning. That is key. When the process is more important than the product (e.g. form of a tackle, etiquette, times tables, initial analysis of a document in history), critical thought is sacrificed to gain something presumably more important. That is usually a cultural decision.

    I am not arguing against critical thinking skills. Not at all. However, as an educator I know that I have a little over 155 hours of contact time with each child for a course. How do I effectively allocate this time? Do I spend precious minutes with trial and error over the basics or do I drill them with the basics in order to let them wrestle with advanced concepts at a higher level?

  • Cherrie

    People who want to retain power over numb sheep.

  • http://philosophywithoutahome.com Brendan Murphy

    I got the same call. After answering the questions they hang up on you.

  • http://www.barloworldstore.co.uk Geraint John

    I think Ms Carter should perhaps elaborate on her point??

  • http://www.english-idioms.com JR

    A very humorous story with a nice graphic. Your ‘new development’ was quite surprising. You’ll have to keep your readers posted on your trip to the Bahamas…

  • Ted

    A critical thinker will write-in none-of-the-above and explain in the margin why limiting the choices to those options is deceptive, or even why the question may have been written to encourage a certain kind of answer.

    Ultimately, training in critical thinking must be a distributed task or else it’s programming. It is not schools, but many individual parents with differing ideologies that will give our students critical thinking skills. Even if an example like the one given here is used widely, the tendency will be one that tends to favor healthcare over employment, whereas the really most important issues may not even have been on the menu (an extremely common tactic in this sort of survey)

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind

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