Presentation to Lakewood School Board...

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Gordon Brumm
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Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2005 9:13 pm

Presentation to Lakewood School Board...

Postby Gordon Brumm » Mon Apr 18, 2005 5:52 pm


Some months ago I went to the LRC at the High School to post a leaflet. Coming out of the LRC I noticed the Hall of Fame pictures on the opposite wall and stopped to look at them. A student came by and we had a casual conversation. I showed him the plaques of some of the teachers I was familiar with. There was T.R. Evans, who told my future wife that she would get over her liking for the Romantic composers. (She hasnít, so I hear a lot of Rachmaninoff. Or at least it seems like a lot.) There was Andy Watters, whose daughter Sally married my class-mate, Bob Burson. At one of our reunions, Bob told me that before their marriage, he and Sally had worried that they would be arguing all the time, but that since being married they hadnít had a single argument. I was speechless with awe and admiration ñ and disbelief.

One of the teachers whose picture I didnít see ñ although I believe it is on the wall ñ is Maggie Warner (Margaret Warner if you prefer) of beloved memory, who taught me Modern European History. One thing I remember from that class is the wonderful textbook written by the historian Carl Becker ñ his description of the original man on the white horse (I believe his name was Boulanger), and his account of the way in which Bismarck preempted the Socialists, which years later gave me the framework for understanding why 65 is the standard retirement age. So whenever I hear complaints that a school system is using old textbooks, I hope that wonderful texts such as Beckerís are not victims of age discrimination.

But what I remember primarily about Miss Warnerís class is her teaching me how to make an outline. This was important because outlining, along with the diagramming of sentences, were the only ways in which I learned how to recognize the relationship of one idea to another in a purely verbal, non-mathematical context. (Of course I learned to recognize such relationships in geometry, wherein a proof presented us with what were in effect premises and conclusion, but the transfer of geometric proofs to real life was problematic.)

Among my memories of teachers, there is one who stands out in sharp contrast to Miss Warner. She was an algebra teacher, probably in what was then junior high school. Iím not sure I remember her name correctly, so to avoid a possible slander of the innocent I will call her Miss Whatís-Her-Name. At the time in question, we were studying positive and negative numbers. Miss Whatís-Her-Name stated that minus two is less than plus two. I immediately raised my hand and said, No, minus two is the same quantity as plus two ñ they only have different signs. This seemed self-evident to me at the time, since minus two multiplied by minus two yields the same product as plus two multiplied by plus two. And it seems self-evident to me still, subject to a qualification I will get to in a moment. What was memorable about this exchange is Miss Whatís-Her-Nameís reaction. Without making any attempt to show why my answer was faulty, she ridiculed me unmercifully and at length for asserting such an outlandish idea ñ and of course, for challenging her authority. Since this was the 1940s instead of the 1960s, I did not jump up on my desk and exhort my classmates to rebel against this stupid and repressive pig; I merely blushed and remained silent, but ever since then I have remembered Miss Whatís-Her-Nameís response as a pure and egregious abuse of power directed against independent thinking. .

However, at some point this spring I somewhat revised my estimate, as a result of that font of wisdom, the Internal Revenue Service Form 1040. As you no doubt know, this form requires the taxpayer to make a number of additions and subtractions. As my eye went over one of these, I noticed that the form states: "If the answer is less than zero, write down zero." So the IRS says that some answers can be less than zero! These number are of course negative numbers. So as far as the IRS is concerned, negative numbers are less than positive numbers! According to the IRS, minus two is less than plus two! The lesson from this is that, whether minus two is less than plus two, or whether it is the same in quantity, depends on the context.

In addition to being guilty of abuse of power, then, Miss Whatís-Her-Name was guilty of a far greater crime, namely, ignoring a teachable moment. What she could have done is praise me for questioning conventional belief, ask my reasons for saying that minus 2 is the same quantity as plus 2, and then say something like this: "Well, Gordon, it is true sometimes that minus 2 is the same quantity as plus 2 ñ for example when weíre multiplying ñ and itís also true that sometimes minus 2 is less than plus 2, as for example when we subtract a larger from a smaller number. And sometimes it makes no difference, as when we subtract a smaller from a larger number. The reason is that the phrase ëless thaní changes meaning from one situation to another." That is to say, she could have used the occasion to make me more sensitive to the meanings of words and the ways in which they change. But she didnít.

Before leaving the case of Miss Whatís-Her-Name, letís look at another approach she could have taken. She could have said, "Well, Gordon, you believe that minus 2 is as great as plus 2, and if thatís what you believe, then itís right for you!" That answer would have made me feel better, but I think we can agree that it would have been just as inappropriate, just as harmful, as what she actually said, and possibly more so. But of course, this kind of response is not what I have just been talking about. So letís put to rest forever the idea that the only alternative to an absurdly permissive approach is an authoritarian one. There is a third alternative ñ the right and proper alternative ñ and that is to give students the tools and inclinations they need to make justified decisions and come to justified conclusions on their own.

As I stood with the student in front of the hall-of-fame plaques, we talked briefly about his experience at Lakewood High. He told me he had only been here for a year, having moved from California. I then asked him if at any point in his class work at Lakewood he had been taught critical thinking. His reply was no, he hadnít, and that if you want to get critical thinking you have to go to a Catholic school. Well, I donít know whether he was right about Catholic schools, though I notice that some time ago a certain Frank Schiros of Lakewood, in a letter to the Sun-Post, described four parochial schools as being "like another world of Academic Heaven compared to our public schools." In any case, comparisons are pointless. The only significant question is whether the Lakewood school system is doing as well as it ought to, and I have to conclude that the student was right in his judgment about Lakewood.

Which brings me to the main purpose of my presentation ñ to call attention to critical thinking and its foundation, the reasoning process overall. The Lakewood schoolsí mission statement calls for the teaching of critical thinking, and I think we all agree that we want to take Lakewood schools as far as possible in the direction of Margaret Warnerís classes, and as far as possible away from Miss Whatís-Her-Nameís. How can we do this? How can we promote clear, coherent, critical and independent thinking in Lakewood High students?

Consider first what clear, coherent, critical and independent thinking consists of. That is a big question, but here are the main ingredients:

Students need to be made sensitive to meaning, as my hypothesized exchange with Miss Whatís-Her-Name illustrates. Words must be their servants, not their masters. They must learn to be aware of meanings and changes in meanings, and to be able to capture meaning in a clear definition. This is pretty well recognized.

Second, they must be able to think for themselves, as the saying goes. This does not merely mean being contrary. It means that the students are able to determine whether there is good reason for their beliefs, as opposed to blind obedience to authority or convention.

Third, it means being able to respond to changing circumstances; deriving proper conclusions from unchanging basic principles or goals in combination with changing estimates of the facts.

Finally, it means being able to recognize bad reasoning. One way of doing this is to recognize when the reasoning falls into one of the illegitimate patterns called fallacies (for example, circular reasoning).

Another way of recognizing bad reasoning is to recognize the consequences, or implications, of the judgments it involves. If these implications are false, the judgment is false also. (A classic example of failure to consider consequences is provided by David Perkins in SMART SCHOOLS. According to his account, a number of college students were asked to explain why the weather is hotter in summer and colder in winter. Many or most explained by saying that hotter summer weather is caused by the fact that in summer the earth is closer to the sun. We can easily see that this explanation is false because it implies that both the northern AND southern hemispheres are warmer in our summer months. But this is clearly false ñ in our summer months, the northern hemisphere is warmer but the southern hemisphere is colder. So it cannot be true that summer heat is caused by the earthís being closer to the sun.)

The common theme in these ingredients, beyond being clear about meanings, is the ability to recognize where an argument came from and what it leads to. ñ to recognize what lies behind a judgment (the reasons for it) and what the argument leads to (its consequences, or implications).

In other words, students must recognize the STRUCTURE in a controversy ñ how various judgments that enter into that controversy are related to one another.. This means forming arguments, i.e., specific premises (reasons) leading to specific conclusions. It means being able to identify the issues raised in a controversy ñ the questions that must be answered if a justified conclusion is to be reached. It means being able to identify specific ways in which arguments can go wrong while still looking legitimate (the fallacies).

Now, the big question: How can these abilities be taught? The answer to this involves several other questions and distinctions: 1) Should the concepts and abilities be taught explicitly, or only implicitly, in the expectation that the student will pick them up through modeling or incidentally? 2) Should a special class be devoted to critical thinking or the reasoning process? 3) Should critical thinking or the reasoning process be taught to all students, or just to the gifted? 4) What is the relationship between learning the concepts or abilities, per se, and applying them?

Here are the answers, as I see them from my experience:

1) The concepts and abilities ñ for example, discerning and formulating arguments, identifying issues, recognizing fallacies ñ must be taught explicitly at some point. They donít come naturally. You canít expect students to reason well simply because they have been urged to do so or simply because they have been incidentally exposed to good reasoning -- any more than you can expect students to play good basketball simply because they have urged to do so and have had the chance to watch LeBron James. If a basketball player is to develop a good jump shot, for example, he or she must be shown at some point exactly how a jump shot should be carried out (e.g., not beginning at the chest as might naturally be done, but somewhere above the head), and the player must practice jump shots repeatedly with the coach watching and correcting every wrong move. Likewise, if students are to learn how to identify and formulate arguments, for example, they must be shown how to do so, and they must repeatedly practice, perhaps by means of argument diagramming or the like, under the eye of a teacher who tells them when they are getting it right and when they are getting it wrong. It is simply not enough to merely encourage students to express their own ideas.

2) Should reasoning be an independent subject, taught in its own classes? Probably not. The curriculum seems to be crowded enough as it is, and if reasoning were taught as a special class, the students might well construe what is taught in that class as separate from the rest of their thinking and the rest of their life. Instead, the reasoning process should probably be taught within existing courses.

3) The reasoning process should definitely be taught to all students. Every student is at the very least a citizen and as such will have to reason out their political choices. To teach reasoning only to the gifted is to teach it to those who need it least.

4) In most areas of knowledge, one learns a concept and then learns how to apply it. I have found the reverse to be true in the area of reasoning and critical thinking. I say this largely because of my experience with the informal program called "Thinking Fellows." I found that the students quite readily learned the concepts and abilities ñ for example, they could diagram the arguments in the abstract examples ñ but when it came time to apply these concepts and abilities to life-like case studies, they fell down. I concluded that the notion of "seeing as" applies here. (Remember the pictures that can be seen as a rabbit or as a duck, or can be seen as a vase or a pair of faces, etc.) A person must SEE a controversy AS a set of ideas to be structured in the form of arguments, issues, etc., rather than as a chaotic set of ideas to be accepted or rejected in isolation. Thus, before the concepts and abilities in question are taught explicitly, the student must be gradually introduced to and eased into the appropriate mind-set.

There is a significant analogy to reinforce this viewpoint. Parents and other adults are urged to read to pre-schoolers, conspicuously turning pages and demonstrating the pages being read from, in order that the children will SEE a book AS something to gain information and pleasure from. At this point, the relevant concepts (letters, words and meanings) have not yet been explicitly taught; rather, the students are being shown that there is an activity, reading, and will later learn the concepts that apply to it. Similarly, students at the earliest stages of instruction in reasoning can be taught that there is an activity, reasoning, and later learn the concepts -- premises, conclusion, arguments, issues, etc. ñ that apply to it. .

What does this mean for the overall curriculum? The teaching of critical thinking and reasoning in general must be a continuing part of the continuum in a graduated sequence, incorporated into conventional subjects. What parts of the curriculum should be assigned to what grades depends on the developmental stages of the students. I surmise (tentatively, and dependent on the judgments of developmental psychology combined with experiment) that the progression could go roughly like this:

Around the fifth grade the students would be gently introduced to the idea of argument structure, as I have just mentioned. This mindset would be reinforced during the next few grades. Around the eighth grade students would begin to recognize and formulate specific arguments. They would confront more and more complicated arguments through the ninth grade, and for the complicated arguments would learn argument diagramming. In the tenth grade they would begin to identify issues. In the final two grades they would be introduced to the traditional fallacies and would use their abilities to structure their thinking in complex, life-like case discussions.

I urge you to institute this kind of curriculum. In doing so, I urge you to notice what we find in every book on organizational development ñ that basic change must come from the top; you canít merely express your wishes and leave the rest to individual teachers. If you carry out such a critical thinking and reasoning curriculum ñ it might be called the Lakewood Curriculum ñ you will add a new and valuable dimension to Lakewood studentsí education, and as a side benefit will make Lakewood Schools more attractive to parents who want to give their children the kind of education they need in todayís complex world, as well as putting another feather in Lakewoodís cap.

Next I would like to suggest a program that should generate a great deal of favorable publicity for the Lakewood Schools, in addition to providing a uniquely valuable learning experience for students from Lakewood and elsewhere

My suggestion is modeled after a program that was discontinued a few years ago, called University for Young Americans. Several times a year, on a school day, the UYA brought contingents of students, each led by a teacher, from high schools around the area to day-long workshops. Each workshop was devoted to some general area in which policy decisions are called for, e.g. the global environment or media impact on public opinion. Each began with an overall meeting at which a keynote address was given. Then the student participants broke up into discussion groups led by adults who had some relevant expertise. These groups met twice, once before and once after lunch. After the discussion meetings the entire group came together for a final meeting in which each discussion group reported their results.

If my memory serves, there were perhaps 100 to 150 students in all at a workshop.

My suggestion is that the Lakewood schools host such a program. I see two alternatives as to time and place. One is to hold the workshops on Saturdays, with the overall meeting being held in the Civic Auditorium and discussion meetings being held in classrooms. The other alternative is to hold the workshops on weekdays in some place such as the Beck Center, where the overall meetings could be held in the main theater and the discussion meetings could be held in various places around the building. (The UYA held its meetings during the week, and they were held in such places as law offices, CSU, etc.)

By all accounts, the students who participated in the UYA found the experience invaluable, and I believe the same would hold for the revival of the program that I am suggesting. It would be especially beneficial for Lakewood students, since as hosts for the program, they could construct the framework for discussions in accordance with the reasoning structure I described a little while ago. And as I mentioned, the program would be a signal for parents and students that Lakewood schools offer more educational opportunities and turn out students who are more sophisticated.

In addition to a venue, the program would require discussion leaders, presumably volunteers, and a paid staff of at least one person plus clerical support. The volunteer discussion leaders would be easy to get (I was one, for example), and I should think that funds for the staff could easily be obtained from a local foundation. The director of the UYA ñ her name is Florence Vipond ñ can apparently be reached through the phone book..

Each of the programs I have suggested ñ a reasoning/critical thinking curriculum, and a program of workshops modeled on the University of Young Americans ñ will enhance the educational experience of Lakewood students and will considerably enhance the reputation of the city. I urge you to consider them carefully.

Thank you.

-- Gordon Brumm

Kenneth Warren
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Joined: Sat Mar 26, 2005 7:17 pm

Postby Kenneth Warren » Mon Apr 18, 2005 8:32 pm


For more than ten years I have seen first hand the positive impact your rigorous programs in critical thinking and reasoning have had on the minds of Lakewood students who have been disciplined enough to participate in enrichment programs you have offered at Lakewood Public Library.

At the same time you have tried to bring the issue of training in critical thinking and reasoning into sharper focus among Lakewood educators concerned with curriculum. It's has not been an easy pitch.

In the past educators have assumed that critical thinking and reasoning are already part and parcel of the curriculum.

It's been tough, therefore, for Lakewood's citizen logic master to instigate among professional educators for a curriculum that honors critical thinking and reasoning through rigorous methodology and application.

The Lakewood Observer is, indeed, the place to instigate for a curriculum that honors critical thinking and reasoning through rigorous methodology and application.

At the same time, with the Lakewood Observer, we will be able to market these "Thinking City" initiatives in ways not possible before.

As we develop relationships with academics in the University Initiative, moreover, I hope the resources, relationships and will required to advance critical thinking and reasoning in Lakewood and in our schools will at long last be realized.

Again, it is all about putting relationships in a civic alignment that opens a new learning space and that obtains for learners, citizen logic masters and professional teachers alike the transformational structure needed for intelligent execution.

We still have a very long way to go. I am truly glad we are still pushing onward together, now with the Lakewood Observer.

Kenneth Warren

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Jim O'Bryan
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Postby Jim O'Bryan » Tue Apr 19, 2005 6:32 am


Very nice presentation and call to order. I think you and the University for Young Americans have hit on it. Base the entire program around politics and social issues. Here is the greatest variable for thought process. A perfect place to address what I call A + B Thinkers, as opposed to A + B = C Thinkers. In this equation A=need money, B=rob gas station. For some reason some never finish the equation getting to C= jail time.

It was always my civics teachers that gave the most latitude to thinking, so why not blow out the program?

Certainly Lakewood and America would be much better off with this curriculum. Look at where we are at now with the economy, the war, the urban landscape, and the lake of thought in economic development. It is all A + B thinking, where the poser drops into C and answer he thinks he can sell to the public, knowing their reasoning has gone out the window.

For all we know maybe the powers to be have read your note. However I am getting a different feeling from the Board. Two of the more liberal members have been invited to stop by and check out the discussion.

As you and others have pointed out in various posts. The Observer harkens in a new day and attitude in Lakewood. As DL put it so aptly over a month ago, "The Love Train is powered up and leaving the station. Hopefully they will get on board at the next stop."

Ken has a very different take on the whole scene. Using spiral dynamics I think he underlines that many need to feel in control of the situation before jumping in.

Thank you again, I think you have another winner here.

Jim O'Bryan

dl meckes
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Postby dl meckes » Tue Apr 19, 2005 10:04 am


What a wonderful thought and what a great presentation. This type of program would be invaluable to all of us (in Lakewood and as a society in general).

I have a question; is there any particular reason why you want to start children at the grade level you have mentioned? Are there ways of injecting some elements of "critical thinking for life" through children's programs at the library?

My first reply to you (regarding the Observer) seemed, I'm sure, rather terse. I don't have your communication skills, but your phrase, "clear, coherent, critical and independent thinking" is exactly what I was trying to communicate regarding my wish for the "tone" of the Observer.

I'd like to see this piece run in the print part of the Observer to garner a much wider audience. You have identified a great need and a practical, accomplishable solution.

“One of they key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don’t go into government.”- 45
Gordon Brumm
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Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2005 9:13 pm

Postby Gordon Brumm » Tue Apr 19, 2005 3:53 pm

To the responder:

Thanks for the comment. To answer your question(s), let me begin on a tangent: My interest in reasoning does not arise from study of education, nor even from philosophy, but originally from the teaching of philosophy. Thus, I believe I have a good picture of what the consumer product should be, so to speak, and I have a little experience in how this product can be delivered, but that experience is all at the gifted-high school level and above - plus it's all from practice, with no controls etc. So to design a program such as I envision, you would need someone with a knowledge of developmental psychology, someone who could match the required cognitive efforts with the grade levels, plus work out the sequence of cognitive steps (if that's the term). That's what I would like to see the school system, as a system, do. When I said I thought the whole thing might start in the fifth grade, I was only giving a semi-educated guess. In other words, the nature of the program is open, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it delivers the proper product.

Concerning the Library, I'm sure a Library program along these lines would be very valuable, and I'm equallly sure that Ken Warren would be more receptive to the idea than -- alas -- the School Board.


Kenneth Warren
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Joined: Sat Mar 26, 2005 7:17 pm

Postby Kenneth Warren » Tue Apr 19, 2005 10:40 pm


As Lakewood identifies civic personalities with academic credentials interested in coming to the table for discussions with universities and the schools concerning innovative learning collaborations, I will keep you in mind, along with your initial elaboration of the disciplines needed to be brought to bear on the reasoning program, i.e. child development, educational psychology.

Indeed, I would be happy to propose bringing reasoning into relationship with an ecology/sustainability curriculum, should I have the opportunity to do so.

It's a move not quite in the key of Bateson's Steps To an Ecology of the Mind. Maybe you will see at least thematically how your reasoning model might inform an approach to mind, change, evolution, systems thinking, and ecology.

Paul Alsenas urged Lakewood to explore an ecology/sustainability curriculum at his Building a Sustainable City program for the library's Lakewood Future Tools series. His powerpoint is available here:

Dr. Orr from Oberlin College has written a book on ecological curriculum, which our library owns. Kim Paras, our deputy director, is reading the book to see how the library's enrichment programs for children might engage this subject matter. She is exploring possibilities in education in ecology and sustainable practices with Dr. Jan Henderson, Director of the Heifer Project, and an expert on Ohio's Food Shed.

I invite you to read this book and to see if a nexus with reasoning is possible, for baseline library programs, which we can deliver without much struggle, as well as for larger instigations with universities and schools, which may take much more time and effort to advance. If you see any point, let's talk further, with Kim and Jan.

Maybe we could then begin building a blueprint in the Lakewood Observer for a transformative curriculum in ecology and reasoning. This blueprint could then to be leveraged into the discussion with academic collaborators.

There may well be points within Dr. Estrop's evolving Lakewood Cares model for this transformative curriculum in ecology and reasoning to take root.

Again, with the Lakewood Observer, we at least have the opportunity to explore and amplify these potentials.

Kenneth Warren

stephen davis
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Location: lakewood, ohio

Postby stephen davis » Wed Apr 27, 2005 8:54 am


Since this is one of the few truly open forums in Lakewood, I am going to take this opportunity to share my perhaps less thoughtful thoughts about your probably more thoughtful thoughts.

My formal education was never as advanced as yours, but it was very diverse. My family moved a lot. Until college, I was never in the same school system for longer than 2 years. I attended a wide variety of schools in many states, and even spent 2 years with my sister as the only Catholics at a Mormon missionary school in Western Samoa (The only school on the island to teach in English.). I finished high school at Western Reserve Academy, in Hudson. It all adds up to an interesting mix of public, religious, and secular private education.

People that know me know that I have spent a lot the past 20 years working on community projects, including 2 city charter reviews, and library projects, but mostly public school issues. Our 5 kids have kept me in touch with the day-to-day aspects of Lakewood Public Schools and curricula. My bigger interests are the politics affecting education and its funding.

I am probably as idealistic as you are about the possibilities for great new educational models. I am in total agreement with you about the need for a ìcritical thinking and reasoning curriculum.î

There was a nationally recognized educator that spoke at one of Lakewood Schoolís community leaders breakfasts in the early 90ís. His question was, something to the effect of, ìWhat shouldnít we teach our children?î He then continued with an argument about how the amount of available information is doubling every couple of years, and, as a result, we should not spend time teaching information. His priorities would be to teach reading, writing, speaking, debate, critical thinking, and information gathering, organization, and integration.

In 1993 and í94, my daughter was in the 7th grade at Emerson Middle School. Her class and others were in an experimental program (not gifted) with a group of teachers called the J-Team. The J-Team, to my memory, was a group including Math, English, Science, and Social Studies teachers. The full year program was to integrate all of those subject elements into larger problems that kids had to work out without the normal subject boundaries, and yet judged from all of those subjectsí perspectives. It was exciting for teachers, very enriching for the students, and great spectator sport for parents. The program did not continue after that year.

Reading your post reminded me of the enthusiasm I felt for a high school science curriculum proposed by Nobel Physicist Leon Ledermann at the Chautauqua Institution some years ago. He suggested changing the order of classes taken in high school science. He said that Physics should be the first taken, not the last, as it is now nationally. (Not too surprising, given that he IS a physicist.) He said that physics gives one the understanding of behavior of the largest objects, and all the way down to the molecular and atomic level. That would give a stronger foundation for chemistry, biology, and the earth sciences. I chatted with him, he signed his book, ìThe God Particleî, for me, and I walked away thinking, ìHeís right! All schools should use this model.î

I read your post after attending the Lakewood Observer meeting last week. At that meeting, you made the important comment (Iím not going to quote or paraphrase you. I will offer MY understanding of your comments.) that any national, and I assume state, issues that are covered should be made directly relevant to Lakewood. I strongly agree. (I hope thatís what you meant.)

As an inverse to that concept, I suggest caution when judging local issues in a vacuum. I am concerned that we sometimes judge our local officials, city, county, school, library, et al, without understanding the external pressures and mandates that rule their decisions.

I have a couple of issues with your post. Your title line, ìTHE PRESENTATION I WOULD MAKE TO THE SCHOOL BOARD IF I THOUGHT IT WOULD HAVE ANY EFFECTî seems to impugn the school board for not being responsive. I understand that you have made these suggestions to them in the past. I applaud your effort and intent, but I also understand their inaction.

Public schools are under attack. They are being strangled by state and federal funding failures. At the same time state and federal mandates have imposed more responsibilities. Policies supporting charter and private schools gouge their budgets with no accountability and without the same representation we have with an elected school board.

ìNo Child Left Behindî and standardized testing have robbed teachers of the opportunity to teach critical thinking skills in favor of ìteaching to the testsî. Improvement in test scores, because of the consequences, trumps your ìcritical thinking and reasoning curriculum.î

I met with two of the old J-Team teachers at an open house at Emerson Middle School a couple of years ago. We all talked fondly about the J-Team year. I asked why they donít do this anymore. They told me that there is no time for that, and we will never see it again. It was explained that there is not enough time for this kind of learning while preparing students for the mandated standardized proficiency tests. How incredibly sad.

How many years ago did the Ohio Supreme Court rule that our stateís equation for funding education is unconstitutional? What are the mechanics and motivations behind ìNo Child Left Behindî? Is critical thinking a value that is being encouraged by testing? Are we testing what students know, or how they learn? (There is a difference.) Could Lakewood take the risk of changing the order of their science offerings if it doesnít jive with testing schedules? Why canít every school run like the J-Team? Is this our locally elected school boardís fault?

At the Observer meeting we talked about some of the dangers of partisanship with regard to the paper. Unfortunately, this is playing out as an extremely partisan issue outside the borders of Lakewood that is raising havoc here. Theyíve got us fighting among ourselves.

With limited time, money, and staff resources, maybe the best we can do under these circumstances is to make suggestions to the school board, and just allow them to do the best they can, while we impugn and pester the elected officials in Columbus and Washington.

One more thing, Gordon. And this is probably a good debate for another day. ìCritical thinkingî is a term that has become meaningful only when given in context. ìCritical thinkingî has been used to support creationism. Do you consider that ìcritical thinkingî in a religious environment, such as a Catholic school, might have a completely different meaning than in a purely secular environment?

Keep hope alive!


Kenneth Warren
Posts: 489
Joined: Sat Mar 26, 2005 7:17 pm

Postby Kenneth Warren » Wed Apr 27, 2005 7:41 pm



Yours is quite an expressive and impressive post. I appreciate the annecdotal detail, the thinking and the common sense regard for actual classroom conditions. Thus your points about external factors imposed from the outside - time limits and testing ñ are good ones.

Gordon is a fabulous instigator for reason, critical thinking and reading. His analytic survey on Ohio School Proficiency Tests is published on the libraryís website.


It is worth reading, and perhaps even publishing in the Lakewood Observer.

Prompted by your post to seek a Jesuit example for consideration, I found this syllabus description from Loyola of Chicago. The course is Roman Catholicism THEO 179, which gives us the flavor of a Jesuit approach to the matter.

Let's put aside notions of the supernatural and the sacred, which would not be easily accepted in the class, I suspect. Let me propose briefly that the secular theory of memetics is a key through which the opening description could be understood, if only in a profane sense.

ìRoman Catholicism has affected our world powerfully and pervasively and it continues to do so. Our lives are profoundly influenced by it, whether we are Catholic or not, and whether we like it or not! No one escapes its influence.î

Observe how the meme the Jesuit order and class are obligated to serve is powered up at the onset.

The ground inside and outside religious truth is treated differently.

Notice the bounds of inquiry move toward gifts of the spirit: "wisdom" and "hope."

ìAt the same time, no one can avoid the questions and concerns that stand at the heart of the Churchís very reason for existing: who are we? why are we here? what ìhappensî when we die? For 2000 years, the Church has struggled to be the gathering of Godís people that is faithful to Jesus Christ as Godís ìanswerî to these issues and the embodiment of Godís saving presence in the world. In this effort, it has often failed and fallen short, as even Pope John Paul II himself has stressed. Yet it has also offered strength to the weak, wisdom to the seeking, and hope to the oppressed and despairing.î

Thus the content begins in theological knowledge areas of belief, presumably telescoped into historical development:

ìBy taking this course, students will be able to demonstrate knowledge, with attention to historical development, of the central texts, beliefs, ethical understandings, and practices of Roman Catholicism. By way of example, students who take this course should be able to: (1) name and discuss some of the most important Roman Catholic beliefs; (2) Articulate the general outline of the historical evolution of Roman Catholicism and, in particular, the impact of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965); (3) Define and discuss key Roman Catholic concepts, terms, values, and religious practices; and (4) recount and analyze the main lines of current Roman Catholic debates about its identity in today's world.

Competenies to be attained are noted as follows: ìto analyze and interpret Roman Catholic religious texts, beliefs, and practices using standard scholarly methods and tools.î

The focus is on: 1) throught-forms (memes) dogma; 2) impact on belief in ìnatural law;î 3) the ethics resulting from the practice of the religion.


ìFor example, students should be able to analyze and interpret some papal and conciliar statements and discuss the role of these texts in the lives of believing Roman Catholics. Students taking this course will also be able to demonstrate knowledge of the central ethical teachings and perspectives of Roman Catholicism (competency e), e.g., the role and meaning of "natural law."

Here are the ìCritical Thinking Skills and Dispositionsî that the class advances:

"Students will:

1. "comprehend, paraphrase, summarize, and contextualize the meaning of varying forms of communication."

In class discussions, quizzes, and/or examinations, students will demonstrate the ability to comprehend, paraphrase, summarize, and/or contextualize a variety of religious texts, histories, and ideas, as well as scholarly arguments about those texts, histories and ideas.

2. develop "strategies for seeking and synthesizing information to support an argument, make a decision, or resolve a problem."

In class discussions, quizzes, and/or examinations, students will be encouraged to articulate reasoned arguments about materials studied in the course or to critique arguments to which they are exposed in the class.

3. monitor students' own "individual thinking or behavior" in relationship to Roman Catholicism "in order to question, confirm, validate, or correct" their presuppositions and prejudgments.

Class discussions will require students to reflect on their own presuppositions and correct erroneous opinions by appealing to data and reasoned argumentation.î

It would be interesting, if Gordon has the time to respond, to see the points of convergence and divergence between this outline from a Jesuit class in ìRoman Catholicismî and his methodology for critical thinking skills. That is one point of interest suggested by your observation about the secular and religious applications of critical thinking.

Kenneth Warren
Last edited by Kenneth Warren on Wed Apr 27, 2005 8:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.

stephen davis
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Location: lakewood, ohio

Postby stephen davis » Wed Apr 27, 2005 8:06 pm

Thanks, Ken.

I am going to read Gordon's survey.

The link in your post did not work. There is an extra period at the end of the URL. You can take it off when attempting to link, or just try this:

I'll get back to you after I have a chance to digest all of this material.


Gordon Brumm
Posts: 13
Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2005 9:13 pm

Postby Gordon Brumm » Fri Apr 29, 2005 12:06 pm


Thanks much for your thorough discussion and analysis. I'll just comment on a few points that come to mind most quickly. I hope we can talk about this later at length.

About the school board's inaction: To my mind, the standardized testing requirements are a copout for the schools. As you mention, I have made at least two presentations of some sort or another to the school board. In addition, through the good offices of Elmer Stange, I got an interview with Rick Wair (sp?), the curriculum director. He listened quite politely, though he didn't understand the crucial point about getting students to "see as" before they are introduced to the concepts. Afterward, I didn't hear one word from him -- no "thank you, but sorry we're just unable to do this," no nothing. Now, if the School Board, as you suggest, were really sympathetic but constrained in what they can do, they at least would explore the idea to see if maybe there is something they can do. Or at least do something to develop the idea of such a program in the abstract, against the day when maybe they could put it into practice. If they say they-re too busy, there is the standard answer: You're never too busy to do what is important to you. It's not a matter of time, but of priorities.

But furthermore, I think there is something that can be done. Most obviously, look at the AP classes. They aren't constrained by the proficiency tests. So there is some abailable time, at least for a portion of the students (though as I said, I'd hate to see such a program confined to the better students -- still, half a loaf is beter than none.) And as I tried to indicate, most of the teaching of reasonng should probably be as an incidental aspect of other subjects. If the teachers were taught something about critical thinking and the reasoning process, they could teach it in that way -- i.e., incidentally. In short, there are many ways to skin the cat but the School Board has just ignored any consideration of them.

About "critical thinking" and its context, especially religious context: If critical thinking -- and not pseudo-critical thinking -- really leads to a belief in Creationism, then so much the better for Creationism. What I see, however, is that opponents of evolution theory point to weak spots in the evolutionis' arguments, and conclude from that that Creationism is better supported than evolutionism -- whereas in fact, Creationism has no support at all. But as a matter of politeness, and since a liberal view (int he widest sense) has to say that religion doesn't really ppurport to describe the world anyway, all the opponents of Creationism tend to give them a free pass vis-a-vis their logical weakness (not to mention all the terrible things that have been done throughout history in the name of religion.) That said, I do think that opponents of the evolultion theory have some points. Most basically, I am continually amazed that those theorists almost never distinguish between evolution and natural selection (the purported mechanism wereby evolution advances.) As far as I can see, the evidence for evolution is unassailable. But the evidence for natural selection -- which I would say is a more crucial concept when religion is concerned -- is somewhat shaky. For example, has anyone really explained how or why the flounder has both eyes on the one side of its head? (I think it's the flounder). By "really explained" I do not include circular explanations. And I have read that the one instance that natural-selection theorists always come back to -- the moths that changed color to suit the environment in some way -- was phonied up. Etc. etc. In short, I would hate to see one dogmatism being replaced by another. I think the evolutionis/natural seleciton arguments should be attacked just as any other, and if they are weak, their weakness should be acknowledged -- without falling into the trap I alluded to, of concluding that therefore Creationism is true.

Regarding the relation of local to national or state issues: I remember saying that we can and should write some local stories pointing out their significance to wider issues, national or whatever. If I said we should confine ourselves to talking just about what has happened in Lakewood, though, I've changed my mind. Because I think one of the purposes of the paper -- perhaps the main purpose -- is to show Lakewood as a creative and intellectually sophisticated community. And we can do this by giving better, more analytical, more piercing treatments of national issues (as I would like to do in some of my columns, to give one sort of example.) Of course, we can't cover everything, but I would suggest we might, as news stories, cover some of the things that the commercial media have neglected -- my current example being Kofi Anan's proposals for UN reform. and of course there are movie review, possibly, or a review of web sites (if this is feasible -- I have to plead total ignorance of the subject.)

So those are my thoughts. I hope we can keepin touch. Perhaps we can build a snowman (snowperson) out of this snowball.


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