I think I may lean towards a socialistic view and therefore am a strong advocate of public schools and teaching every child equally. To be fair I have only experienced one private school but that led me to write the following short inquiry/essay and I am still struggling to find the answers!
Is it possible to foster critical thinking skills in students in a highly disciplined and explicitly structured school culture?
There are many advantages for teachers, students and parents when a school’s culture is structured on highly disciplined rules and expectations. Yet, is this culture negatively impacting the potential for an increase in student’s critical thinking skills? Critical thinking education which has been defined, explored and promoted by educational philosophers such as Giroux (1988), Freire (1997) and Dewey (1966) is greatly influenced by the idea that education should focus on creating a democratic citizen capable of viewing the current state of society, identifying problems and then influencing transformational change in society. Critical thinking should be a major aim of education to allow for learning that can “…be used to expand the public good and promote democratic social change” (Giroux, 2007). It could be argued that these critical theorists are utopian and unrealistic but I subscribe to the idea that “Without a vision for tomorrow, hope is impossible” (Freire, 1997, p. 45).
I believe the aim of education should be to create an environment that promotes a democratic community for social interaction that allows students to question society’s views and values. For learners to become democratic citizens capable of questioning norms and possibly transform society, they require the ability to think critically. In my view, critical thinking is imperative; it is required before a person is capable of identifying a problem in society and ultimately affecting change by their actions.
So, is critical thinking occurring in schools that follow a culture based on a highly structured discipline? To maintain such a culture within a whole school often requires that there are set routines, expectations and strict consequences for students and teachers who do not follow the rules. This leads to a continual focus on control and how to maintain this control. The advantage of this controlling nature within a school environment is likely to result in higher educational gains and less room for negative student behaviour such as bullying and poor performance. This type of control however, often requires a Skinner-type technique to control student (and teacher) behaviour which may results in a reward driven individual that destroys “…the notion of the self, individual responsibility, and self-reliance” (Ozman & Craver, 2008, p. 214). A controlling environment, specifically a controlling teacher, may not be able to foster a caring relationship between teacher and student. Kohn (1993) argues that teachers that are constantly controlling student’s behaviours by using behaviour modification and rule enforcement are unable to foster a caring relationship. A truly caring relationship between teachers and learners, based on an “ethics of care” (Noddings, 2005), is required for a critical and democratic classroom to exist.
How can a controlling school culture, with all its inherent benefits for students and their parents, avoid the potential of their controlling nature to negatively impact the freedom that is arguably required to foster critical thinking in our future citizens? Is this possible? Are highly disciplined schools and critical thinking mutually exclusive? Are the benefits of a controlling school culture at odds with the idea of creating critically thinking citizens? Is the key to successfully fostering critical thinking in students at such schools to have teachers that focus on creating democratic classrooms with an underlying educational philosophy that includes an ethics of care? Can a classroom be truly democratic in such a school environment?
Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and education: an introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Free Press.
Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the heart. New York: Continuum
Giroux, H. A.. (1988). Teachers as intellectuals: toward a critical pedagogy of learning. Granby, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey.
Giroux, H. (2007). Youth and the politics of disposability: resisting the assault on education and American youth. Retrieved on May 20, 2011, from http://www.stateofnature.org/youthAndThePolitics.html
Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Noddings, N. (2005). Caring in education. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from http://www.infed.org/biblio/noddings_caring_in_education.htm
Ozman, H., & Craver, S. (2008). Philosophical aspects of behaviorism. In Philosophical foundations of education (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.