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Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Professional Ethics for Educators

K-8 Critical Thinking Habits of Mind: curious, creative, engaged organized, fair-minded and focused

This Guest Blog Post by  Peter A. Facione, Ph.D., Measured Reasons LLC, is presented as part of Insight Assessment's commitment to advancing critical thinking worldwide.

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“But, is it really ethical to be teaching young people to think for themselves?”

We all were taken aback when someone at the community forum asked that question. Then the responses started rolling out from everyone else in the room. “Yes!” “By all means!”  “Of course, it is!” 

The springboard for the question was the Washington Post Opinion by Kareem Abdul Jabbar talking about critical thinking in K-12 schools.  His point was that our democracy will flounder if the national discourse is muddled by intentional misinformation, misdirection, and misrepresentation. He worried that too many of us get our “news” from social media and entertainment networks, instead of from sources that emphasize well-informed, responsible, even-handed, and fair-minded journalism.

Without the ability to have sensible, respectful, informed, and productive national conversations we should expect that our pluralistic democracy will fail. And the only way to cultivate that ability is to teach critical thinking from childhood and at every opportunity thereafter. For children especially, fostering the habits of mind may be even more important than drilling the skills.  

Learning happens best in a classroom culture that emphasizes being curious, focused, creative, fair-minded, organized, and engaged. 

Think about it.  Imagine the opposite.  Imagine a teacher that does not model those habits of mind and that does not cultivate them in the classroom. What can we the learners achieve in the negativity of that environment?

Misinterpretations and unrealistic expectations are unhelpful.

Teaching for critical thinking does not require that we should all agree.  There must always be room for reasonable people to disagree about policies and approaches.  But when we have well-established facts, we should use them as a basis for a shared understanding of the nature of our problems and the potential for our solutions. 

There will always be emotionally traumatizing catastrophes that challenge our ability to step back and take a reasoned, focused, and organized approach.  But that only means that we need to work harder to prepare ourselves for those kinds of difficulties. The mental discipline to keep our wits about ourselves can only improve our chances of successfully responding, particularly in moments of crisis.

There will always people who take an over-simplified, us-vs-them, circle-the-wagons, tribal approach. There will always be people, unaware of shades of gray, who cannot get past their naïve black-or-white interpretations and evaluations. There will always be people who seek personal advantage by politicize everything.

But, that does not mean that professional educators are off the hook.  The opposite:

The ethical duty of the professional educator is to foster cognitive growth, to help learners achieve a measure of wisdom in how they respond to problems, in how they interpret situations, and how they balanced their own interests and the interest of the common good. 

Perhaps the question in the community forum should have been:

 “How would it ever be ethical not to teach for critical thinking?”

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Professional educators, including industry trainers, who may be interested in tools to enhance their own critical thinking skills and habits of mind may wish to suggest that their employers consider utilizing Insight Development Program . This online program integrates proven instructional modules with a valid assessment of thinking mindset attributes and reasoning skills. Insight Assessment also offers a comprehensive array of test instruments for education, business, health science, K-12 and law uses.

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