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Christopher Koch

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Improve Critical Thinking in the US' education system - mathematically as well as linguistically

For 14 years of my life I have lived in Germany, and I have gone through nine years (+one skipped year) of the education system there. And then I went to Texas to experience high school in the US - and I saw huge deficits.

The high and middle schools of the US do not encourage enough critical thinking among their students. Everything is being done with guidance of a teacher going through steps of a procedure - and this is where the problem is. For example, in Math: Teachers provide step-by-step instructions how to solve an equation, how to divide, how to... This does not teach students how to think about math individually. It teaches them to follow the procedure, and maybe get the answer right - but it does not teach how it works, and it does not teach how to think beyond that point. This education system cannot produce great mathematicians, because all the people with potential are taught to follow procedures and instructions! Sure, there are some smart students that want to figure it out on their own, and they do. But teachers need to encourage it, because there are a lot of students with great potential in this country. Critical Thinking also teaches responsibility, and the other way round. And do we want irresponsible individuals in charge in the future?

But Math is only an example. The same thing accounts for English, Science, - anything. Literacy is another problems. Students that cannot read a text, a short story or novel on their own - with their own crticial individual thinking - cannot understand any Science or Math textbook either.
As an anecdote: In high school year in Texas, I was taught critical thinking in the English lessons as a step-by-step procedure - and that is not the way to get students thinking individually.

I can't fit more in 2000 characters, even though I'd like to. The bottomline is: Teachers need to encourage critical, individual thinking among their students. Only then this country can produce great thinkers and leaders of the world.

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  • Mar 23 2011: Ah! Welcome to Texas then! I'm also a Texan, been here 10 years and am a senior in high-school. I also agree with you (But I do have to point out that Texas is either last or second-to-last education wise. The rest of the country isn't quite so bad, even if it does suck nationwide).

    This is partly due to the politics and bureaucracy of teaching, where failing a student means a teacher's ineptitude (erroneously, of course). This means students go on to the next grade even when they shouldn't. (I did the math on the statistics they are required to give to students at my school and when you account for the number of students passed "via committee" grades 8 and 12 should sit at around 300% the size of the other high school years.)

    Because of the horrible state of this nation's education, I became an International Baccalaureate student. Though a great deal of American students are unprepared for it (Because it tests on european standards, and as far as I'm aware, students begin physics in middle school over there and no sooner than junior or senior year here, there is a large knowledge gap) it's still doable. It's not perfect of course, but it does help alleviate the issues you are facing.

    I'm constantly facing similar issues but there are ways around them - I am, for example independently studying Chemistry HL (the 2nd year of college level Chemistry, 3rd year overall). Coupled with the advanced language programs (and the fact ,the teacher's role is much more hands off leaving the intellectual work up to the student) I'm glad IB sidesteps a lot of problems with the public school system and in my opinion supersedes it completely.

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