Academic journal article High School Journal

Minority Education and Analytical Thinking Skills: Traditionalizing Disempowerment

Academic journal article High School Journal

Minority Education and Analytical Thinking Skills: Traditionalizing Disempowerment

Article excerpt

This research examines a community struggling to define the type of education needed for its children. After years of being a minority culture in a much larger school district, a small group of individuals in the community petitioned the state to begin a new school district. Community members indicated a desire for an emphasis on vocational skills so students would be more employable. The teachers, most coming from outside the community, wanted a more liberal arts curriculum with an emphasis on analytical thinking skills. In the nearly twenty years since the district's formation, a random autonomy has come to define the curriculum efforts made by the professional educators. Unless there is a significant effort to arrive at a community and school consensus, it is unlikely that an empowering, relevant high school curriculum will be established.

Introduction

A recent movement in public education has been the "clarion call for a return to `the basics' -- rote memorization, drills, and brain paralyzing tests ..." (Orey 1998, 241). The emphasis upon rote memorization on repetitive skill drills in the public school curriculum has frequently meant that "problem-solving methodologies lie somewhere in the cracks and cob-webs of cluttered, unkempt classrooms" (Wright 1997, 53). One educator described the typical curriculum in American schools as being "organized in lock-step fashion so that all children pass through the same sequences, ideally at the same ages, preferably on the same days (Katz & Chard 1997, 4). This lack of emphasis upon the ability to solve problems through an analytical thought process may mean that students are unprepared for the "complex nature of the twenty-first century challenges" (Orey 1998, 242). The research project presented here analyzes the struggles of an American Indian community to define its educational curriculum for its young people. The research will examine two critical issues:

* Does a minority culture believe it is critical to emphasize problem-solving skills in the school curriculum?

* What are the challenges or barriers to instituting a problem-solving emphasis in a minority culture's school system?

Literature Review

While many politicians and education officials are rallying under the banner of basic skills, some educators continue to advocate for a curriculum that stresses the development of problem-solving skills (Orey 1998; Freire 1970; Cummins 1986; Leonardos 1992; Shor 1987). The process of learning in a curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving skills becomes as important as the final product of the learning. A problem-solving centered curriculum "requires pupils to plan, evaluate, anticipate, critique, analyze, and develop other higher-order thinking skills" (Thode 1997, 24). This process leads to "understanding, which [is] the ability to apply knowledge to new situations" (Pace & Gardner 1997, 18)--a key ability for the workforce of the future. According to scholars, workers "will need more than elementary basic skills to maintain the standard of living of their parents. They will have to think for a living, analyze problems and solutions, and work cooperatively in teams" (Thoughtful Teachers, Thoughtful Schools 1998, xi).

Kozol (1981), while examining school systems for minority children and children in poverty, cautioned against moving away from an emphasis on basic skills in schools. He wrote, "We cannot afford to leave the skills of numbers to the corporations that control us, the skills of reading to the advertising corporations that deceive us, the skills of writing to those government agencies that issue orders to young people empowered" (111). Kozol states another reason for advocating an emphasis upon basic skill development in schools:

"The quickest way to forfeit parent backing ... is to sail off on a Summerhillian journey of ecstatic and spontaneous adventures, at cost of all substantial day-to-day hard labor in the areas of basic skills" (112). …

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