Something to seriously consider about teaching and learning in recent American public education history is the entrenched attraction to quick fixes for deep-rooted educational problems.
Something to seriously consider about teaching and learning in recent American public education history is the entrenched attraction to quick fixes for deep-rooted educational problems. According to international assessments, our elementary school students generally score toward the top of the distribution and our middle school students usually place somewhat above the average. However, American high school students score well below the international average and fare especially poorly in math and science as compared with our country’s chief economic rivals. Put bluntly, over the past four decades, despite all the “school reform” initiatives, there has been no improvement in the academic proficiency of American high school students, generally, and an unconscionable failure for our nation’s Latino and minority students, specifically.
As we enter this new year, American public education can make great progress and greatly benefit our nation’s Latino, and other minority student-citizens, and therefore our nation, by directly inculcating our young people with the core concepts and principles of critical thinking into the fabric of teaching and learning. As Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder have championed: “what is worth learning is worth learning well, and there is nothing better worth learning than the very process of learning itself; the development, through systematic intellectual work of the arts, [skills], habits, and strategies, of a DISCIPLINED mind.”
Providing and cultivating the opportunity for our students to internalize, strengthen and master a substantive approach to thinking by first helping them deal with their bad habits of mind that obstruct their learning is a prerequisite. This process will provide students with an understanding of the inherent barriers they face in their intellectual and social development as an educated citizen. In other words, guide, teach, instruct, mentor, train and coach our nation’s Latino, and other minority student-citizens, how to study and learn.
The ancient dictum of Socrates to “know thyself” is a fundamental critical thinking concept and tool that is critical in the developmental process of becoming a competent and successful student. Self-knowledge allows students to identify personal limitations and become more objective. Self-knowledge allows young, middle aged, and elderly minds to know “what they are doing, why they are doing it, which problems are theirs, and which belong to the outside world.” When students develop self-awareness it enhances their ability to learn by reducing internal and external interferences with the learning process. Furthermore, self-awareness facilitates students of color to be more open minded about and accepting in collaborating, interacting and working with others.
Seasoned educators in low-performing, low-income, predominantly Latino, and other minority, high schools know the power of peer pressure on their students’ decision-making process when it pertains to bad or otherwise questionable decisions. Self-awareness is the foundation for all students to begin the life long process of developing discernment—the ability to judge well. Regardless of the means for achievement, there is no debating that academic engagement and therefore academic achievement are more probable when students are aware of their academic and personal goals. American public education can significantly propel the advancement of education for our nation’s Latino and other minority students upon explicitly embracing the principles embedded in a developed conception of critical thinking. It is through the tools of criticality, or of critical thought, that our nation’s Latino and other minority students are empowered to address the complex human issues they encounter.
Incorporating the well designed and precise style-of-life assessment model developed by Socrates for students to explore themselves as unique individuals and therefore obtain a better understanding of their own motivation, behavior and educational choices, is necessary. Knowing one’s self is a process, an exciting and complex adventure, in discovering and understanding who you are. Academic engagement begins with “Knowing Oneself,” a “never boring, always interesting and exciting” process that begins with complex and profound questions. As Dr. Paul and Dr. Elder have aptly put it: “It is hard to imagine someone being a good critical thinker while lacking the disposition to question in a deep way. It is also hard to imagine someone acquiring the disposition to question in a fuller way than Socrates. It follows that those truly interested in critical thinking will also be interested in the art of deep questioning. And learning the Socratic art is a natural place to start.”
The rigor of the academic journey requires stamina, confidence, poise, a high tolerance for ambiguity and most importantly, patience. According to the Mexican proverb, “Apenas oyen tronar, ya quieren calabacitas” (translation: “As soon as they hear thunder, they want zucchini”), meaning it takes patience to achieve success and its rewards, students who have a high tolerance for ambiguity understand this principle of patience. The application of Socratic self-examination offers a unique opportunity for students to learn from an approach where you can learn how to understand and express yourself in such a way that you develop your own “world view,” so to speak, and then pursue what you care about most in life.
A substantive concept of education must be inculcated to Latino and other minority students in order for them to become effective in their studies, i.e. those who are tolerant of ambiguity and consistently practice patience with themselves and others, which results in them moving themselves along the educational process. By “substantive concept of education,” I specifically mean the integrated intellectual standards, abilities, traits and values that educated persons share in common. Clearly, our personal values color our perceptions. Values are the convictions or beliefs that determine our goals and how we attempt to achieve them. They guide our actions and prescribe our outlook on life. Becoming aware of one’s values is critically important to develop into a competent and effective student since without commitment and dedicated adherence to intellectual traits and values, nobody is able to internalize the logic of academic content or use reason for effective problem solving, decision-making and strategic planning.
It is those aforementioned values that give rise to a greater probability of staying and completing the educational ladder and career path for our youth. It is absolutely vital to know what you believe and why you believe it. The mere exercise of critical thinking that is required to precisely and honestly answer the questions inherently involves an identification, consideration and exploration of those values that you do NOT value. Therefore, as critical as knowing who you are or who you want to be is, it is equally important to know who you are not and who you do not want to be and why. Socratic questioning is designed to stimulate students’ thinking and heighten their awareness of difficulties that they shall encounter along the academic path. A Socratic self-examination can lead to heightened self-awareness. The following is a non-exhaustive list of “nuts and bolts” questions that help target and bring into clear focus one’s answer to “What do I Value?”:
Who are the most significant people in my life?
How do they view me? Do I rely on them? How do they rely on me?
What are my top 5 values? (e.g., a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life)
What value is the most important to me? Why?
What do I find meaningful? (e.g., having a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose)
What do I find fulfilling? (e.g., making someone satisfied or happy because of fully developing their character or abilities)
How do I define happy? (e.g., feeling or showing pleasure or contentment)
How are you going to find happiness in your life? No really, specifically how?
Successful Latino and minority role models share the common observation that in their academic experience they themselves developed the courage to confront challenges by not denying their own personal convictions in favor of adopting the convictions of others. This perseverance and commitment to their own convictions gave them the confidence to develop the necessary “grit” and “persist” in their chosen goals and aspirations. It is only through a genuine, unique and true understanding of yourself, what you value and the ability to accurately express those values, through their morals, ethics and lifestyle, that allowed such Latino and minority role models to have a greater probability of staying with and completing their educational process.
Latino and other minority students must have foundational tools to develop the courage to ask questions and gently search and listen for answers that might or might not require them to confront themselves (i.e. examining their true motives, feelings, and limitations). They must also have the courage to confront their peers, families and teachers. This courage requires the willingness to, at times, subjugate their own feelings and desires to be liked, respected, and admired, in favor of the educational process. The American public school system must inculcate the reality that an “educated person” is not a product, but a mistake ridden process. It is only through a Socratic self-examination that one can be lead to the realization and acknowledgement that the most fatal pitfall to be avoided in the successful academic path for Latino students is: failing to be acutely aware of personal convictions and developing the courage to uphold them.