(Un)Informed Critical Thinking?


Surprise, surprise.  In a survey released this week, pollsters found that the American public is uninformed about a host of public policy issues, in particular the Common Core Standards. As educators we gasped at the numbers generated by the Gallup/PDK poll:

  • 62% of the American public claims to have never heard of the Common Core.
  • Most of the respondents who were said to have knowledge about the standards, reported eroneous beliefs, including that the intitiave is mandated by the federal government, and that standards will exist for all content areas.
  • 91% percent identified “critical thinking” as the most important of the so-called “21st Century Skills.”

Well, we actually did not gasp at the last data point. However, it was surprising, and it certainly made me wonder. In a society where twice as many people can identify the lead judge on American Idol than can name a Supreme Court justice, can critical thinking actually be dangerous without a command of how to access and command vital information? Without such information, this is not critical thinking, it’s the generation and reinforcement of yet another opinion.

In other words, it is incredibly difficult to be an uninformed critical-thinker. Unless, of course, you are a radio talk show host.

Perhaps the message of this poll is similar to your father, with a burning cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, warning you not to smoke. In other words, it might be to late for us, but maybe, just maybe…

As is often said, hope is not a strategy. We stopped smoking because of a little thing called cancer. It scared us straight, so to speak. So, what will scare us straight from our apathy towards information, knowledge, civic responsibility, and curiosity?

I’d say the Gallup/PDK report at least parallels the cough that dad displayed after his frequent warning. That little indicator that maybe you should do as your told, not as you’ve seen.

Apparently, we know critical thinking is important, and experts on the topic suggest that there are scaffolded skills required to successfully process such thought and inquiry. At least that’s a start.

So, to our next generation, take it from this blissfully unaware populace…

Pay attention, seek information, absorb that which is most important to your current reality, and, most of all, seek answers, especially about things such as what our children will be learning, how your schools are evaluated, and what influences the decisions around these topics. In essence, just be curious. Because, it’s awfully hard to have a critically informed opinion, without requisite and valid information.

In other words, do as we say, and not as we do.


Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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