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Teaching U.S. Students to Think

[Here on my progressive/liberal Black Liberal Boomer Blog, I will occasionally publish posts about the state of education in the United States. I am a former teacher/college instructor for grades Pre-K through university level; I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education and Psychology and a Master’s Degree in English and Education. I also have many years of experience in corporate sales and business management. I am a certified Reading Specialist, and in addition to providing writing and editing services for my local and international business clients, I presently work with graduate and post-graduate students in nine countries through my business Writing It Right For You. Some of these posts may be cross-published on my Detroit-focused blog, The DSpot Redeux and my writing blog at Writing It Right For You.]


Dr. Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy

and Nobel Prize Winner for Physics


I just saw a commercial by Dr. Steven Chu in which Dr. Chu was advocating for people to become caring, engaged teachers like his 12th grade physics teacher, Mr. Miner. Dr. Chu said that Mr. Miner was one of the teachers who changed his life because Mr. Miner didn’t just teach the facts, but encouraged his students to think about their studies and about how to come to conclusions and find answers. Dr. Chu then reminded those watching the commercial that the United States needs many more teachers like Mr. Miner if our students are to be able to compete in today’s global community.

Unfortunately, much of U.S. education today consists of “teaching to the (standardized) test”–the majority of teaching has one purpose, to make sure that the students pass whatever standardized test is being used to rank schools and school districts. Rarely do children have the time to explore, question, or learn anything besides “the facts” that the local school boards think are relevant.

Today, the creative arts–art and music classes–have all but disappeared, as have many physical education classes except organized sports. The classes are the first to be cut during budget cuts despite numerous studies that show that art, music and “gym” actually help with cognitive skills.

This scenario in our schools has become more common in recent years, especially since the passage of the ironically named “No Child Left Behind” Act (our children are further behind their global counterparts than ever); but the pressures on teachers to get high test scores from the students is nothing new. Many years ago, when I was teaching 4th grade in Ann Arbor Michigan, I wrote the creative writing topic on the board, pulled the window shades down low, and instructed the children to “think” silently about the topic for about five minutes before starting to write. My principal came into my room and demanded to know why the children weren’t “working”. I answered, “They are working; they’re THINKING!” I was told in no uncertain terms that “thinking” was not schoolwork; filling in little circles in their workbooks was.

To give today’s students the opportunity to benefit from teachers like Mr. Miner, the answer is not just more teachers. Teachers must be treated like the professionals they are and allowed to teach and engage the students in many different needed skills, not just have the students parrot “facts”.

Sidebar: Dr. Chu, in an interview, revealed that he now wished that his parents, immigrants from China, had taught him to become fluent in their native language of Chinese, instead of insisting he just learn English since he was an American. Maybe in the 1950s and 1960s when Dr. Chu was in public school, speaking only English was sufficient. Today, however, being fluent in Chinese as well as other languages in addition to English is almost mandatory for global communication. 


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