Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is most well-known for his impact on social justice. However, Dr. King’s vision for education included the value of learning and character. While a student at Morehouse College in 1947 he penned The Purpose of Education. One key quote from his work still has great relevance today:
Key Elements of Dr. King’s Vision: Critical Reading & Thinking
Dr. King emphasized that the ability to read and think critically are essential not only to academic success but also in the workplace. According to Kurland, the two are different, and yet they are quite connected:
- Critical reading is a technique for discovering information and ideas within a text.
- Critical thinking is a technique for evaluating information and ideas, for deciding what to accept and believe.
When we read and think critically, it doesn’t mean we criticize. It simply means we can understand, analyze, and evaluate what we hear and read so we can then draw well-informed conclusions. We then can build a solid body of knowledge that will we use throughout life.
Critical reading and thinking skills are essential, regardless of whether students choose to go on to college or enter the workforce after high school graduation.
Critical Reading and Thinking in Missouri’s Public Schools
Given the importance of critical reading and thinking skills, we’d assume that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) ensures that they’re being taught in the Show-Me State’s K-12 public schools. Wrong.
The Missouri Learning Standards represent a set of expectations for what students should know and be able to do across multiple subjects (English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, among others). DESE emphasizes that it doesn’t dictate curriculum, leaving this decision up to each school district. However, it requires that students are evaluated on skills covered in the MLS through high-stakes standardized assessments.
A Puzzling Disconnect between Jargon and Reality
DESE describes the Missouri Learning Standards (MLS) this way:
However, there seems to be a real disconnect between DESE’s description, and how these skills are actually reflected in the Standards. OneMissouri reviewed the English Language Arts Standards for grades Kindergarten through 12 and could find scant few examples of when these skills are being emphasized:
Table 1: English Language Arts Expectations: Grade K-5
Table 2: English Language Arts Expectations: Grade 6-12
Higher-Order Thinking Skills
To be fair, we found several instances where higher-order skills were called out (analyze, synthesize, evaluate), but those were primarily addressed only in the upper grades (4-12). We found almost no examples of higher-order skills being called out in grades K-3 where the building blocks of learning occur, according to research published by the Education Commission of the States. That’s a concern.
Dr. King’s Vision and Next Steps
Returning back to Dr. King’s vision, if the role of education is to teach our youngsters how to think critically and intensively, then we must ensure that we set high expectations for them in our state’s public schools. DESE should work with parents, educators, and researchers to identify gaps in the Missouri Learning Standard and enact a plan to fill them.
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