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March 01, 2011 3 min read
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Critical Thinking: More Than Words?

We hear it all the time: critical thinking. We educators let it roll off our tongues with great ease and leverage it as a clear target of our educational philosophy, goals, vision, etc.

But let me ask you this, what is critical thinking and what are the skills, attributes, and characteristics that help to define it? Has your community engaged in deep discussions on critical thinking, or is it left vague, an abstract term that sounds good but is left to chance on its development?

I’ve been charting the characteristics, traits, and attributes that go into defining critical thinking. This has resulted in a pile of ideas that cross over, duplicate, and contradict. With over 100 concepts and growing, it is overwhelming, but it also paints an interesting picture. What implications does this have for those that believe critical thinking needs to be a foundational element in schools? How does one begin to approach these concepts vertically and horizontally in authentic ways?

If we believe in critical thinking, it has to be more than words stated, leaving individuals to figure out. It requires the community to approach it with rigor and fidelity, beginning with a working definition and a breakdown of concepts that moves us forward together.

—Ryan Bretag


On the Ground in Wisconsin

Two weeks ago, I went, quite by accident, to Madison, Wis., to join the demonstrators. It was an amazing day: chants and songs, speeches, drumming, and ingenious signs held high by a joyous crowd of somewhere between 55,000 and 80,000 people (plus a few thousand tea party-ers). The crowd included women and children and men in firefighter uniforms, teachers, nurses, and members of other unions and just-plain-indignant citizens.

It’s the beginning of a nationwide response to the well-funded campaign to eliminate public-employee unions (the private ones have already been destroyed, along with our manufacturing industries). That campaign is part of an orchestrated drive to the bottom, basing itself on the hope that appealing to our worst instincts can divide us: the desperation of those a step above, still hanging on to their jobs.

Today’s rich—unlike those in 1933—are doing better than ever, while they scold us for not tightening our belts. We must accept austerity, they lecture us, for the sake of future generations. Luckily for them, their great-great-great-grandchildren will be well taken care of. Their children go to schools where 15 kids in a class is ordinary, while the children of the unemployed in Detroit will soon be attending schools with class sizes of 60.

Those who created this financial crisis and are its beneficiaries have risen to the occasion to put old-fashioned late-19th-century capitalism back in the saddle, thus undoing a century of struggle.

—Deborah Meier


Duncan Elaborates on Layoff Policies

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to think U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was a little vague about what it meant to revisit things like seniority and layoff policies.

At the conclusion of his big labor-management conference in Denver, several reporters pressed for more detail.

Duncan said he felt there were two ways not to do teacher layoffs: First, by targeting the most expensive veteran teachers to save costs, and second, by cutting new teachers (pretty much how it’s now done under last-in-first-out, or LIFO, policies).

There are many effective veteran teachers who should be kept, Duncan said, as well as enthusiastic and effective newer teachers. Districts need to consider that as they head into what’s going to be a tough budget year, with the funding cliff and all.

He cited particular concern for low-income schools where there’s already a lot of teacher turnover. Duncan’s words on that seemed a bit like code for Los Angeles, where civil rights groups successfully sued to stop LIFO policies from decimating low-income schools.

Overall, his remarks weren’t the condemnation of LIFO policies some would like to hear. But they do advocate for differences in how layoffs are currently performed.

—Stephen Sawchuk

A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 2011 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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