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Alternative to School Choice - let's THINK about it...

Without question, a quality education is the Great Equalizer in our society, and has been for many years. Oftentimes, I challenge my friends and colleagues to a version of the Six Degrees of Bacon game by asserting that any of the ills in our society can be solved through quality education. My answers typically go like this – if the individual had a quality education, x wouldn’t be necessary, y wouldn’t be an option, so z wouldn’t happen. It’s not foolproof, but it usually moves the conversation to the importance of education.

Disclaimer: It was drilled into my head from an early age that I would earn a diploma from a school of higher learning, and although I was not told why this would be a good idea, the results were achieved. When it was my turn to parent, although my style changed a bit, the results were the same as my parents – two children earning post-graduate degrees. The takeaway – a quality education is vital, and it must be fostered (demanded) from those with influence over the decision.

Here comes the challenge – how do we, as a society, ensure that all children have an opportunity for a quality education, complete with the impetus needed to help them achieve the goal? Unfortunately, the idealistic view of public education in this country has failed our children, with no prospects for improvement in the near future. Not unlike other government initiatives that start off with good intentions, we are now left with a corrupt system dominated by the almighty dollar (

Recently, I was having a conversation with my sister about this very issue, and I had an epiphany. I was extolling the virtues of a quality education, using the Six Degrees of Bacon approach, and my sister said “Damn, you and your brothers all thing alike!” Well, to say the least, I was a bit offended, only to hear her say that we all thought in a very linear, logical way. My knee-jerk response was “Doesn’t everyone think like this?” My response revealed my own confirmation bias, as I just took it for granted that, although we may have earned different degrees, we all processed things in the same way. WRONG!

I went back to the proverbial drawing board to test my hypothesis about education being the be-all and end-all for ensuring success in our society. As I didn’t have the time or luxury to research the issue, I examined my education for clues. I quickly realized that my high school education was rooted in the Socratic Method, which oftentimes places more emphasis on the questions than the answers. This lead me to a corollary to my original thesis – education is the Great Equalizer, but critical thinking will Set You Free.

My renewed emphasis on critical thinking may be the answer to the education debate, for it we can inject critical thinking into the educational process, it will almost certainly upgrade the entire educational experience. But how? And when? And by whom?

The two obvious choices for “By whom” are parents and teachers, both of whom play critical roles in the development of children. The psychological development of children follow 4 stages:

  • Sensorimotor (birth - 2 years). Children learn through senses and manipulation of objects.

  • Preoperational (2 years -7 years). Memory and imagination take root, enabling symbolic learning, with a concept of past and future.

  • Concrete Operational (7 years - 11 years). Children become more aware of external events, experience feelings other than their own, are less egocentric, and become aware that others have different beliefs.

  • Formal Operational (11 years and up). Children begin to use logic to solve problems.

Although the Formal Operational stage is the first stage that employs the use of logic, the foundation for this stage must include critical thinking skills, for without them, logic cannot follow.

In the first 2 stages, it is up to the parents to instill critical thinking skills in their children. But what if the parents aren’t equipped with the very skills they need to instill in their children. How many times have we all seen a child ask “Why?” I would dare say everyone reading this has seen it countless times. Now, how many times have we seen the same child ask “Why” ten times in succession, even after hearing an explanation? Again, I would say all of us have. Now, here’s the rub – how many of us see parents express frustration with the incessant questioning? Guilty, as charged. If we, as parents, knew that we missed a huge opportunity to enforce critical thinking, we would kick ourselves. The response to “Why” from a child should be “Why do you think?” Not only would it make it easier to move on from the question, it would start your child down the path of critical thinking. For as we all know, lessons learned are far more valuable than lessons taught.

In the last 2 stages, it is more important for teachers to take an active role in the development of critical thinking in our children. This may not be possible, as most teachers are bound by the curriculum set for them by others, and for whatever reason, critical thinking does not seem to be a priority. The closest most teachers get to critical thinking resemble the Economics teacher from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

Now that I brought up a classic from the ‘80s, it dawned on me that answers may be found in another ‘80s high school classic. Now you will need to give me a little poetic license on this one, but I harken back to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. Although he spent most of him time at fictitious Ridgemont High as a stoner, Jeff Spicoli was quite insightful. In one iconic scene, he has a pizza delivered to class, and the incredulous Mr. Hand doesn’t know what to make of it.

Mr. Hand: Am I hallucinating here? Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?

Spicoli: Learning about Cuba, and having some food.

Mr. Hand: Mr.Spicoli, You're on dangerous ground here. You're causing a major disturbance on my time.

Spicoli: I've been thinking about this, Mr. Hand. If I'm here and you're here, doesn't that make it our time? Certainly, there's nothing wrong with a little feast on our time.

Mr. Hand: [takes away box of pizza from Spicoli] You're absolutely right, Mr. Spicoli. It is our time. Yours, mine and everyone else's in this room. But it is my class.

Mr. Hand: [calls up a couple of students] Mr. Spicoli has been kind enough to bring us a snack. Be my guest. Help yourselves. Get a good one.

What a very funny comedic exchange, and you know what they say about real life being the best comedy. Spicoli illustrates a very valuable point that is overlooked in our classrooms – we are all in this together. However, Mr. Hand puts a very abrupt end to that notion by pointing out “But it is my class”. But what if it isn’t his class after all? What if the students became the teachers?

There are no rules in the critical thinking process that define any hierarchy. The process of critical thinking is a continuum wherein questions are used as answers in an effort to further explore thoughts and ideas. What if a student was equipped with rudimentary critical thinking skills and was able to deploy these skills in a classroom setting? Wouldn’t these questions be the creation of a critical thinking environment, which would benefit everyone? Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but for the sake of curiosity, let’s assume this to be the case. But if the student is to bring critical thinking to the classroom without any exposure to critical thinking from parents, just how is this supposed to happen? Quite the dilemma!

Enter the parent surrogate – the smart phone! Imagine a game, with the same addictive properties of Angry Birds, designed to teach children how to think critically. Talk about a game changer – it would quite possibly be the best game ever created. The positive benefits would create a domino effect that would work their way through society. First, children would learn the basics of critical thinking, which they would use at home and in the classroom. As the parents begin to think critically, they will be able to understand that public education is failing their children. The teacher’s unions will have to grapple with teachers who are now equipped to think critically, effectively ending their reign. But perhaps the most positive result from the game would be critical thinking children, who would most certainly begin to question their own addiction to the game, as well as the other deleterious aspects of social media. I haven’t quite figured out how all the details of the game will work, or if it is even possible. The only two things I know for sure are the code name for the prototype, WOPR, and how the game ends. When a user reaches his/her desired level of critical thinking, the graphics go old school.


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Unknown member
Mar 25, 2021

I agree with your comments, which are very insightful. My frustration is that elected officials and administrators think that throwing gobs of money at the educational system is the answer. It is not. I would argue that accountability for all stakeholders is the key to a successful educational system from the kids to the parents to the teachers and aids to the principal and administrators. There needs to be an objective criteria by which everyone is judged for success. The time for being soft and coddling is not now. Just my two cents....

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You are correct in your assessment about accountability, but with all the layers, it is very hard to hold enough people accountable. I know I am being very idealistic, but imagine if all the activists groups changed their focus to education? Hell, I would be in the streets with them.

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