The fate of our country depends on the character of its citizens. Indeed, the primary goal of our American education system is to produce good citizens. To this end, we must strive to prepare better citizens; citizens who think clearly, make good decisions, care about others, take responsibility for their actions, and treat fellow citizens with respect - citizens that will be able to lead productive lives and contribute responsibly to the greater good. America's education system now stands at the brink of a monumental challenge: the development and delivery of a curriculum designed specifically to produce better citizens.[close]
The basic issue is this: Too many of our children are making the wrong decisions. We see one horrific example after another in the news on a daily basis. There is a clear need to include forms of instruction into the curriculum that address this fundamental societal issue. The moral and ethical battle for the development of our children into good, responsible citizens is being fought today for our very future as a society. Consider four current societal trends:
Developing better citizens involves defining core issues. Our fundamental belief is that good people who know how to think critically are better participants in public affairs, better at identifying and solving important problems, and better at communicating thoughtfully and accurately. They are better parents, as well as better citizens. A primary education objective then becomes the development of critical decision-making skills. We are speaking here only about the process of decision-making, and not about the content of what to think or decide. This is a crucial distinction. We do not propose to tell people to simply "do this and not that," "be better" or "act right," as most character education curricula espouse. Rather, we plan to focus on the very process of decision-making, and, very importantly, to teach them the relevance of this critical thinking process to their lives. The emphasis on "how", not "what" people decide.
One fundamental precept of teaching critical decision-making requires anchoring our approach to the concept of personal responsibility. It is assumed that people are responsible for both intended and the unintended results of their actions. Therefore, all of us have an obligation to think carefully before we act. If our children are to become moral and ethical, they need to have tools they can apply to any problem or choice, not just a set of rules for a set of pre-specified circumstances.[close]
Critical decision-making skills involve understanding the elements of choice and are directed toward enabling people to achieve their own personal goals. Linking decision-making skills with long-term goals dramatically increases the quality of our choices. Goals, the things we want to achieve, effectively act as a gyroscope, keeping us on-balance and going in the right direction. Rational thinking, then, is the kind of thinking we would do if we were aware of what is in our long-term best interests. Stopping to think about our future interests, with respect to our own personal goals, will help us make better life-decisions. Put simply, we must make decisions and take actions that will get us where we want to go, or, to be who we want to become.
Our children must be Goal-Oriented. Goals provide direction for thinking and decision-making. Goals serve as the basis to choose among possible courses of action. We need to teach our children to rationally assess alternative choice options. By focusing our children on being Goal-Oriented, combined with the skill of Option Development, we provide a foundation to teach them a decision-making system they can use the rest of their lives. This critical thinking skills approach will produce GOOD Decisions[close]
The importance of implementing critical thinking skills as quickly as possible is dramatized by the time frame that defines an educational generation. When asked, most people would say a generation is 20-25 years, the average time period before your children will have their children. When applied to education this definition is wrong. Our view is that an educational generation is precisely one year. The fact is that every year we graduate another group of seniors from our high schools that will go on to have children. Every year we delay in producing good decision-makers, young adults with the ability to make decisions that will enable them to be good parents and teachers of their children. We are at risk of losing yet another generation.
We must begin early to teach our children to understand the decision-making process, effectively starting with simple choices like "brushing your teeth" and working through to more involved choices like whether to "study" or "watch television" after school. Later they analyze the even more serious choices like "who to select as friends", "whether or not to take a gun to school." With training in systematically making simple everyday decisions, our children will learn the process of thinking that they can use later to deal with much more complex life-problems. Interestingly, developmental psychologists tell us that a schoolchild of seven or eight is capable of concrete operational thinking, so we must prepare them with the basic concepts of choice prior to that time. This means that the teaching of critical thinking skills must necessarily begin no later than the first grade.[close]