Toward a more critical outlook.

AuthorHare, William

The value of an educational ideal lies in the potential it has to inspire and guide teachers and educators towards their central aims; the promise, however, all too often remains unrealized. We have known, ever since Socrates awakened us to this insight, that to fail to think seriously about the choices we make as citizens or about the decisions taken by government is to live a life that is not worth living because all-important questions about what is right and just are simply ignored. Socrates' insight comes to mind on reading the discussion in this issue of Journal of Thought of the teaching of social studies in schools today.

Robert A. Waterson and A. G. Rud make the case that democratic bankruptcy threatens if the potential the social studies have for fostering educational ideals such as critical thought and civic engagement is squandered. When the emphasis in schooling increasingly falls on standardized curricula, competency tests, and formulaic approaches, we risk losing sight of the need to teach in such a way that students develop the moral and intellectual virtues that will enable them to make informed decisions and exercise good judgment. This article draws attention to three thoughtful and stimulating approaches to teaching social studies that take seriously the importance of discussion, controversial issues, and problem solving, and that require of teachers the very qualities and dispositions these programs seek to develop in students.

In a wide-ranging survey of Chinese education from classical times to the present day, James Z. Yang and William C. Frick remind us that the same ideal of reflective thought appears as early as the work of Confucius in his comment that a person who studies but does not think is lost. It is also worth adding, in the same context, Lao Tzu's observation that extensive knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Regrettably, the ideal of critical judgment implicit in these philosophical ideas gave way to increasingly rigid and illiberal practices in teaching and education in China, the worst excesses coming during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s when political ideology, propaganda, and anti-intellectualism dominated education at every level. With respect to the educational reforms that have been underway in China since the 1980s, the authors identify a tension in contemporary Chinese education between fostering creativity and independent thought in technical fields of study while at the same...

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