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Letter: Education needs to start with foundational skills

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of The Republic.

From: John R. Drebus


Received: Jan. 9

I read with interest Karen Greathouse’s short column, “Encourage students to be critical thinkers,” (The Republic, Jan. 7).

Greathouse begins with a quote from the 2012 platform of a Texas political party that opposes the teaching of “Higher Order Thinking Skills” (HOTS). A careful reading of the quote, however, reveals that their opposition is not against critical thinking in the classroom but against an educational philosophy known as Outcome-Based Education (inferred to have been relabeled HOTS to make it more palatable).

Next, her article discusses a study by Richard Arum (apparently a reference to his book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses”) that purportedly questions the value of a college education, given the poor record of colleges teaching their students critical thinking.

Finally, Greathouse makes the leap from Texas politics and a critique of college-level learning to what appears to be her ultimate point. She suggests the Indiana standardized curriculum be reshaped “into a more meaningful learning environment that allows for individual inquiries and perspectives.”

It is disappointing that Greathouse didn’t use the first part of her article to offer evidence that the current state curriculum doesn’t provide such an environment and then make specific recommendations for improvement.

Interested citizens may wish to visit the website of the Indiana Department of Education ( and reach their own conclusions about the standards that have been set for our students’ education.

It would appear the emphasis is on providing the essential “lower level” thinking skills as defined by Benjamin Bloom (knowledge, comprehension application) without excluding the use of Bloom’s “higher level” thinking skills (analysis, synthesis evaluation).

Before we encourage students to discover their “own truths” as Greathouse suggests, they must first master the foundation skills of spelling, grammar and composition, along with the basic axioms and postulates (statements accepted as true) of mathematics. Only then will they have the tools and confidence needed for critical thinking at the higher levels.

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