Another dot in the blogosphere?

Lost opportunity to teach critical thinking

Posted on: May 30, 2017

 
My son visited an organic farm with his classmates at the end of the school term. The trip was organised by his school as part of a week-long programme.

According to my son, the owner-farmer claimed that organic farming was superior to all other farming methods, e.g., those that involved genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, etc.

I asked if the accompanying teachers conducted a discussion or debriefing after the visit, but there was none.

Organic farming has its advantages, e.g., no pesticides, but it is not superior in all contexts.
 

 
For example, mankind has long genetically modified plants for higher yields, better taste, greater resistance, etc. We used to rely primarily on crossing varieties; now we can do it directly with genes. The result is the same and this has helped us feed the world with less land, water, and other resources.

Hydro and aeroponics rely little or not at all on pesticides. They also do not require soil management and crops can be farmed vertically or horizontally in stacks.
 

 
Vertical farms also take less space than traditional farms and can be housed in urban areas. This means that the crops are closer to the consumer and reduce or remove the need to transport crops over large distances.

Organic farming is great because it returns farmers to their roots while possibly marrying them with modern techniques. However, the claim that it is the best method does not take other options and contexts into account.

From an educator’s perspective, it is irresponsible to feed young and impressionable minds with biased information without providing some balance.

I am not saying that what the owner said is totally wrong. As someone with a stake in organic farming, she had every right to be proud of her efforts. But she had no right to present her opinions without rebuttal or balance.

According to my son, science teachers did not accompany that group of students. While other teachers were present, their roles should not just be to chaperone. If the mindset of teachers is to focus on group management, then this was a lost opportunity to model and teach critical thinking.

In fact, any teacher could have sparked a reflection and discussion. He or she would not have to provide all the answers. The rise above could have started with questions like:

  • What do you know about farming?
  • What do you think about what you heard today?
  • If you had one important question for the farmer, what might it be? Why would you ask that question?
  • If I said that I did not agree with everything the farmer said, what might some of my disagreements be? Why?

I reiterate: The farm visit was a lost opportunity to teach important critical thinking skills and to practice important pedagogical strategies outside the conventional curriculum. If schools are to venture out into the “real world”, then they should think and operate like they would in order to survive there.

Note: This is not an attempt to bash teachers even if it looks that way. It is my way of being a vigilant educator.
 
The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart.

2 Responses to "Lost opportunity to teach critical thinking"

[…] – Another dot in the blogosphere? : Lost opportunity to teach critical thinking […]

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Good points. Perhaps the school and the teachers saw this as merely an outing. Nothing more. They forgot that this was also a learning opportunity, a chance to spark curiosity. About how food can be grown, and about health and the environment; and about growing food in Spore. How much of our own food do we grow? Can we grow veg at home? Even better if the kids were asked to read up/find out about the different ways of growing veg.

The problem is, asking questions is not encouraged here. In fact, it can
pose Many problems, particularly if one disagrees with what one is told, and says so. Having a broad general knowledge and a lively mind are not seen as advantages either. It’s been this way for several decades. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have all that great an education system here. Certainly not something that truly opens up minds. .

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