Best place to learn critical thinking is outside the classroom

At first when you take kids out of school you get scared that you won’t be able to teach them what they need. After a while, you realize they were learning nothing that they needed in school anyway, so how can you go wrong?

The reason for this is that the most important skill to learn is critical thinking. Presumably, we are teaching the core curricula in school so that kids can get into college where they finally learn critical thinking.

Core curriculum leads to intellectual failure.
But Lisa Nielsen uses a wide range of research to show that the core curriculum is just a tool to make parents think kids will fail without school. (For example, if you tell a kid to read books they are not ready to read, they will hate reading. If you let a kid read what they are ready to read, they will enjoy reading.)

Memorizing facts undermines critical thinking.
Scientific American has a series of examples of why crticial thinking is best learned outside of school. For one thing, a study from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching showed that the more people focus on knowing facts and data the less likely they are to synthesize informtaion to solve problems using critical thinking.

Critical thinking emerges in environments that encourage ill-defined answers.
Also, The Exploratorium in San Francisco is experimenting with using museum exhibits to teach kids critical thinking because the exhibits can focus on broadly worded questions that have few measurable results, like “What if…” and “How can…”

These questions work better outside the classroom because critical thinking assumes there are sometimes multiple right answers and sometimes no right answers, and “informal environments tolerate failure better than school.”

Television is better than school for critical thinking.
Finally, Scientific American says that one of the best teachers of critical inquiry is the Jon Stewart show. “He expertly shreds political, commercial and scientific sounding claims in the press by using numbers, logic, and old video. This collage-like synthesizing of data is what the new generation of critical thinkers will need to do, and the skill comes from a collage of information and interactions that do not emerge in a controlled school environment.

22 replies
  1. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    Do you think diversity has any impact on critical thinking? Does not have to be ethnic diversity necessarily.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I wonder if once we take kids out of an environment with right and wrong, black and white, common and uncommon ways of doing things then diversity loses its…power?

      It’s not diversity anymore but just the way things are.

      I am not sure the word I am searching for is power. More like impact?

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I’m smitten with the your idea that diversity is different ways of approaching a problem rather than different family backgrounds. It’s so shallow to think that just because one kid is in Bangalore and one is in NYC that they solve problems differently. It’s just not necessarily true.

        In a classroom, kids are grouped by those who can get the right answer quickly and right every time and those whose heads are somewhere else. That seems like a completely non-diverse way of learning.

        Karelys, I really like that you showed me a new way to think about diversity. Thanks.


  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    There is so much wrong with rotten to the core curricula that it would take me several blog posts to enumerate … which many people are doing lately so I don’t need to rehash and duplicate their efforts.
    I will say, however, that the federal government is the problem here. They are inserting themselves in a sphere where they don’t belong and they are getting increasing push back as more parents take notice. It never ceases to amaze me how bloated and inefficient the federal government becomes as it usurps the rights of the States and individuals. This pdf ( ) is an infographic with references explaining the creation and implementation of Common Core.
    Even though I went to school, I still have to remind myself constantly how much different it is today.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I think this is a point where you would get broad agreement from the left and the right. Here’s another piece of the puzzle:

      The Common Core is part of an attempt to standardize and unify education across the country. In this it would bring the American system closer to what is seen in other industrialized countries.

      So far so good?


      One of the special things about America vis-a-vis other industrialized countries is the role of private industry. Our federal government is both smaller and larger than it might seen, because it has evolved to bundle things up and bid them out to private industry.

      Just look at our defense industry. Year by year, our defense services are increasingly privatized. The federal government takes tax money from the populace and then doles it out to huge corporations to provide not only all the bloatware not even the Pentagon wants, but all the services soldiers once did. Every potato peeled is another tax dollar for Halliburton.

      This is the end goal of standardization and unification of the national educational system: to ease the participation of huge corporations in a mass education industry. The government wants to bundle up all our country’s education not just so it can sit on it and cackle, but so it can sell it off to the highest bidder. Then all the taking will be funneled through the government to the corporations, just like the defense industry.

      In conclusion, it doesn’t matter whether you are a conservative or a liberal. In this country, national standardization of our educational system is a bad thing. It will inevitably end up costing us more and providing a worse education for our children.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        I agree with much of what you say here. However, I don’t think using the defense industry is a good example only because defense is clearly within the scope of the federal government and education is not. I know just enough to know it’s a really convoluted mess. Follow the money given by the federal government to the States and look to see how it leverages control of the curricula. It’s so much stealth and back door politics in my opinion that it diminishes to a great extent teacher and parental involvement in the classroom. An article that questions whether or not the U.S. DOE is violating federal law can be found here – .

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          If one were to consider original intent and the constitution as written, our current defense industry most certainly does not fall within the scope of government as imagined by our founding fathers.

          The founding fathers never intended for America to have a standing army in times of peace, let alone an entire economy-dominating industry dedicated to its supply. As it says in Article 1 Section 8, “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;”

          Our current state of perpetual war and perpetual standing armies is probably our most egregious departure from the constitutional state as envisioned by the founding fathers. We were to raise an army when there was war, and disband the army immediately afterwards, and we did this, more or less, for a century and a half.

          Federal interference in the schools might not be comparable, but it’s not because it’s worse.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            Yes, I agree with you. And it was Ben Franklin who said a republic if you can keep it. We manage, however, to skirt around and extend past the boundaries of the original intent of the Constitution. Now we maintain a standing army as you say. It was Eisenhower who warned us about the military industrial complex but we didn’t take heed. We’re so far down that road now that it’s mind boggling.
            I believe there’s still time, however, to make people aware of how the federal government is using its’ influence and our money to set academic standards on a nationwide scale. My understanding is they are indirectly making curricula decisions with these milestones which need to be met by handing out money to States willing to accept it. Four States have turned them down. The education of the kids who choose to go to school should be left up to individual States, school districts, and individuals. If this idea of the federal government taking over control of education is such a good idea, then it should be no problem for an amendment to the Constitution to that effect to be passed.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            And here’s where the comparison becomes apt and supports your position:

            We must end the national standards industrial complex before it becomes too big to fail, like our defense contractors and investment banks.

            You better bet that once they get all the schools in the country singing the same tune, they’ll come after homeschoolers. Their diversity is our latitude.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          I am not sure I understand why control of education by the state is preferable to input from the federal government.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            that was not the question: above it was mentioned that states/state government should have the right to decide on education but not the federal government. I just don’t see why one would be fine, the other one not.

            And by the way, the link to the Romeike case still includes a segment presumably translated from the ruling about this case by the german courts – however, I read the original text of the ruling and this particular passage about “… the development of parallel societies… ” is nowhere to be found. If it is somewhere written down in this manner, it must have been a commentary and not the original ruling. Second comment on the Romeike case: the family was invited to come to the US, they were not fugitives forced to leave Germany because of a substantial threat to them. This might play a role (I am saying it might, but I don’t have insider knowledge) in the ruling of the US courts.

            Please note that this does not mean I support compulsory schooling, it only means that I think this particular case is misrepresented in the media and exploited by interest groups.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            The Romeikes are scared to go back to Germany for reasons cited in the latest article I could find on this case – . The only specifics of the case is what I’m reading in the press. The DOJ and DHS aren’t commenting so more details will come out in the trial. Currently I’m rooting for the Romeikes based on what’s being reported.
            “Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution granted Congress the power to lay and collect taxes to provide for the general welfare of the United States. It is under this “general welfare” clause that the federal government has assumed the power to initiate educational activity in its own right and to participate jointly with states, agencies and individuals in educational activities.” and “In 1791, the 10th Amendment stated, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Public education was not mentioned as one of those federal powers, and so historically has been delegated to the local and state governments.” are two quotes taken from a League of Women Voters article on the history of education. I believe it is these two different sections of the U.S. Constitution that are being used to support the extent to which the federal government should be involved in education depending on a person’s point of view. I read on the DOE’s web site that “the Federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is about 10.8 percent, which includes funds not only from the Department of Education (ED) but also from other Federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start program and the Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch program.” So roughly 90% is funded by State and local funds.
            I support minimal involvement from the federal government because they are the furthest away from the students and parents they are supposed to serve. I envision the DOE as a bureaucracy trying to serve everybody’s needs and actually serving nobody. I think each State should compete against each other to be the best they can be to serve the unique needs of the people of their State and be so good so as to entice other people from other States to move to their State. If every State has to be hamstrung from one federal government with the same set of burdensome regulations, where is the motivation to be innovative? I would want to have the option to move to another State with better educational opportunities rather than be stuck with one unified system for the whole country.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Redrock, I believe that state control of public education is preferable to federal control of public education for the following reason:

            If the federal government were able to standardize a national curriculum sufficiently that every public school child were required to follow it (as is done in most other industrialized nations) then it would be one small step to require every homeschooled child to follow it.

            The fact that different children in different schools follow different curricula helps keep it safe for us to homeschool. The existence of diversity of curricula in public schools makes it easier to argue for the equivalency of our homeschooling education despite its difference from that offered in our local public school.

            We can say things like “so what if he doesn’t have history in x grade, they don’t do that in y state either,” but if that fact is taken away, that argument ceases to exist. If every public school kid in America had the same history course in the same grade, or followed the same math progression in the same grade, I have little doubt someone would try to flow the same sort of requirement down to homeschoolers.

            Does that answer your question?

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          That is definitely a good argument for diversity and more direct involvement of the state government versus the federal government.

          However, the new link you provided for the Romeike case is not just factually at least partially incorrect, but I am getting the strong impression that Farris is actually using this family to make a case, and to become the prominent defender of homeschooling. The question is whether he would support another family in the same manner who came from, lets say Pakistan, and wanted to homeschool their children in the christian faith.

          As I said before, I am not a defender of compulsory schooling but a lot of how this case is presented, and argued is just wrong. And most horrible are the various comments made to this article; in many respects they are full of hatred, and self righteousness.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            Michael P. Farris is the Chairman and Cofounder of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). I think this case is very important to him and many homeschooling families. Whether or not he is “using” this family to make a case and to become the prominent defender of homeschooling is debatable. The about page for HSLDA is here – .
            As I said when I provided the link above, it is the latest news I could find on this case. The publisher, author, and myself are not responsible or do not necessarily share the views of the people that commented on the article. I would be happy to read anything current on this case that you would like to provide. However, at this point, I think all of us are going to have to wait for the details and arguments that will be brought forth in the trial to learn anything that’s really substantial.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    As someone who moved a lot growing up, I think the common core sounds like a GREAT idea. I went to two different schools each school year, most years, and it was a disaster for my education.

    Sometimes I’d already learned about something and was bored. Or sometimes I’d missed something (like how to read music) and never caught up–the music teacher, for instance, just had me sit out class. I repeated a TON of material.

    Given the opposition I’ve read here in the comments, though, I’m going to read about it further. perhaps the goverment is taking the idea too far.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Wait, you once went to a school where learning to read music was part of the standard curriculum?

      How cool is that!

      And that’s a good example of something that would no longer exist.

Comments are closed.