Exploring New Frontiers in Education: Scattered Thoughts on Critical Thinking

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I’m probably not a die hard proponent of home schooling. Home schooling is a mixed bag of pros and cons, and it usually depends on the family to take responsibility to do the best they can with the task of schooling children at home. Of course, personal responsibility is always a good thing. Personally, I had a good experience with home schooling, having gone through the Tree of Life homeschooling program, and a most excellent mother who challenged us to excel.

What I really appreciate about what home schooling has done over the last 50 years is challenge the existing paradigms in education. A paradigm is defined as “a typical example or pattern of something; a model.” Or as Merriam-Webster defines it: “an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype.”

Now, there are a couple dangers in challenging paradigms. First, your ideas could just be wrong (take unschooling for example). Second, some of the paradigms you are challenging might be right, and you shouldn’t be challenging them. Third, you will be ostracized, whether you are right or wrong (but that’s not the biggest problem).

But there are also positives in challenging paradigms. Those who challenge paradigms are explorers, they are the adventurers of academia and the various schools of thought and talent within academia. Without exploration, you don’t strike out and build on what we have. I’m afraid that the reason much of higher education focuses on information transfer rather than critical thinking, is that the danger of teaching critical thinking, is when a good thinker challenges old paradigms in teaching, industry, education, life in general.

Now, I would argue that liberals have stolen the word ‘liberal’ from Christians. Christians of course, have lead and still lead in the ‘liberal arts’, a line of education that encourages a broad scope of learning as well as critical thinking. To be ‘liberal’ essentially means that you are a free-thinker. To be ‘conservative’ essentially means that you are seeking to conserve, to hold on to something. Christians know the importance of history and the wisdom of the past, the Bible, proves this on many counts. But they also know the effects of sin on human knowledge, so they see the need to challenge sin and the forge the way into the future for the glory of God and the benefit of future generations.

What brings conservative and liberal thought together (as defined above), is submission to authority: primarily the authority of God’s Word. We believe that the Word of God is the inspired revelation of God into our sin-stained realities. Man is not autonomous, and human reason has been affected by sin, and so we must continually go back to the Word and challenge our mis-interpretations with the works of men of God throughout history.

Francis Schaeffer once wrote: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary.” I fully agree with Francis Schaeffer. Why are we asking them to be conservative when it is possible that conservatives are getting certain things wrong? I am a bit more careful with the term revolutionary, but at the same time, the gospel is supposed to challenge the status quo. The gospel is supposed to turn the world from being upside down, to right side up. Christians can challenge both Conservative and Liberal thought with the authority of the Word.

So what are some ideas to challenge a few popular paradigms?

  • Education (especially higher education) is about critical thinking more than information transfer.
  • Classes should be followed by organized discussion (especially in higher education).
  • Some of the most important education happens at home (especially for younger children).
  • School doesn’t have to happen 5 days a week. You could potentially have a school where kids are at school in the mornings or only go to school for three days a week.
  • Not every student should have to go all the way through high school. We need intellectuals, but we also need skilled laborers.

This may not necessarily challenge a popular paradigm, but hopefully, this very general statement, clarifies the purpose of these stages. On a very broad scale, I see 3 levels of learning (which also have transitions).

  • K-grade 8: memorization, stories, information transfer. This is where an individual’s imagination is shaped and formed.
  • High school: Heavy focus on forming tools for critical thinking. Less facts. More papers.
  • Post-secondary: either specialization or lots of reading, debate, oral/written exams, papers, presentations, classes that are followed up by reading/research/guided debate.

Just a few thoughts. Not too revolutionary. Much, much more could be said, but this is just a start. Much of modern education creates clones, but not necessarily explorers and adventurers. Critical thinking teaches people not just to say that we need change, but to offer real solutions, to think cross-culturally, to build on the past and look to the future.

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the very first time.” TS Elliot

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