From the April 2000 Idaho Observer:

Subject: The Assignment

How will it be completed with change agents' concept of critical thinking skills?

by Diana Anderson

The full impact of Idaho's exiting standards will not be felt until the day anxious students enter a testing room, knowing that their future hinges on their ability to use the analytical and critical thinking skills prerequisite for a passing score. How much of their previous progress will count for successful completion of 12 years of schooling is unknown. The Idaho Observer wants parents and teachers to understand the exact nature of exiting standards. . . how do they measure up to what most citizens want their schools to be in the 21st Century?

Social Studies Standards includes three courses: Economics, U.S. History and Government. Threaded throughout these courses are standards for critical thinking, analytical skills and evolution of democracy which weave a total social studies web. Think of the courses as the content of education and the skill standards as the performance or action upon the content. These “actions” require the students to be “actors”: to organize, explore, explain, compare, contrast, evaluate, trace or describe information about social studies. The controversy lies in the provision of information and the definition and the extent to which critical thinking skills are utilized in the classroom.

A college text, Education for Effective Thinking, sheds some light on critical thinking and explains effectively why some people might be predisposed to question the definition of what “is” is. Alternative expressions for critical thinking are decision making skills, insightful thinking and reflective thought and problem solving. More recognizable and therefore measurable by testing are: “The Critical Attitudes Necessary for Good Thinking”

The following was excerpted from Education for Effective Thinking, an Introductory Text, by Burton, Kimball, and Long (Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., New York: 1960, pp.38-39) and is the basis for Idaho's proposed exiting standards regarding the ability to think “critically” and “analytically.”


“Thinking is a matter of strong moral conviction as well as of processes. Certain critical attitudes are necessary.

“ 1. Intellectual curiosity: Disposition to be alert and sensitive to problems, their causes, related evidences, possible explanations, to wonder why, or how, or what.

“ 2. Intellectual honesty, acceptance of responsibility for process and result: Disposition to accept apparent truth in spite of all inducements to the contrary; to follow evidence and judgment wherever they may lead; to stand up for one's reasoned conclusions together with willingness to change conclusions and beliefs if further inquiry so warrants; to engage in self-criticism; to improve one's own methods.

“3. Objectivity: Disposition to select objective data; not to rely on hunches, intuition, and subjective observation; to be free from bias or partisanship.

“4. Intelligent skepticism or suspension of judgment: criticalness. Disposition to delay acceptance of conclusion until all available relevant data have been considered; to accept nothing at face value.

“5. Open-mindedness: Disposition to consider without bias or prejudgment a wide variety of facts, descriptions, explanations, and interpretations.

“6. Conviction of universal cause-and-effect relationships: Steadfastness in avoiding superstitions, nonscientific, mystic explanations.

“7. Disposition to be systematic: To adhere strictly to the problem and to a consequence of ideas; to use outlines, graphs, summaries to insist on systematic search and check; to be intolerant of confusion and inconsistency.

“8. Flexibility: disposition to give up a previous conclusion, no matter how attractive, if sufficient contrary evidence is disclosed, to change method.

“9. Persistence: disposition to persist in the search for evidence and adequate explanation, never giving up.

“10. Decisiveness: disposition to come to a conclusion; to avoid snap judgments; to avoid balancing and weighing data and conclusions out of all reason.”

Plainly, critical thinking is not limited to reading between the lines, nor never believing everything you read. Moral conviction is regarded as having the disposition to set aside any biased (preferential) or partisan (loyalty) thinking based wholly or in part on superstitions, nonscientific or mystic explanations in favor of intellectual objectivity, open-mindedness, and universal convictions. Decisions drawn from faith, subjective viewpoint, or intuition are irrational and do not contribute to good thinking. Critical thinking skills are the modernists' moral attitudes.

The signature of American education reform's godfather John Dewey is at the heart of the book's thinking which continues to be supported by the NEA and now reflected in Idaho's exiting standards. Dewey, also a pioneer in functional psychology (the identification of environmental triggers which illicit specific behaviors).

Critical thinking attitudes are the “salt” of economic and history studies today.

“Samples of Applications” within the standards shed even more light on where this type of thinking will lead our children. Choosing a sample topic, let's discover the “Supremacy Clause,” keeping in mind our critical attitudes. You are now a student, having no previous sequential instruction of the Constitution, and you are too inexperienced to know that your teacher should be well grounded in the complexities of constitutional law and balance of legitimate powers.

The Assignment:

Let's apply some of Idaho's proposed critical thinking, analytical and evolution of democracy skills to examining the Supremacy Clause.

1. Describe the various interpretations of the Supremacy Clause, using primary sources.

2. Identify the tensions that might occur between local governments and “The Supreme Law of the Land.”

3. Compare a “states rights” dispute, past or present, in which the Supreme Court ruled based on the Supremacy Clause.

4. Evaluate which interpretation would favor the common good in an American democracy.

The Supremacy Clause states:

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” U.S. Const. Art. VI. Paragraph 2.

Now, possibly the teacher would have you answer the above questions, assign a research paper or have you do an oral presentation using the clause to judge the constitutionality of a particular treaty.

Resources given to you may include Congressional laws, court cases (i.e. Edgar v. Mite Corp., Stone v. City and County of San Francisco, Hendricks v. Maryland), Federalist Papers, or various treaties. Or.. more likely, refer you to recommended web sites that provide civics instruction. Can you see the complexity of your assignment on this topic? Can you foresee similar performance items in the assessments based on these standards? Do you have the required critical attitudes to act upon any given assignment?

A prerequisite understanding of “balance of powers,” sections of the Constitution pertaining to this clause, the meaning of “pursuant to,” and the 10th Amendment, to mention a few, may not be covered in a real exercise, especially in a standards design that eliminates a scope and sequence framework for studying the Constitution. Nowhere in the standards is a provision for studying the Constitution as a whole. The standards state:

“Compare and contrast (find the similarities and differences) the essential ideals and objectives of the original organizing documents of the U.S. including the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.”

Are some ideals more essential than others? Are the objectives derived from original intent or are they dependent on interpretation?

Given enough time and depth of study, some students may perform correctly. They must “critically analyze, compare and contrast, distinguish between primary and secondary resources and recognize tensions.”

Whether they pass the test or not, they will garnish “change” in interpretations through the decades and see the continuing tug of war between federal and states' rights, but will they leave the course with convictions based on a study of the whole Constitution, let alone original intent? As the standards stand now, the answer is clearly NO. Critical thinking has no room for subjective observations or partisanship.

Staunch adherents to critical attitudes are foreign to “taking it on faith,” ruling out human intuitiveness or direct factual instruction. They regard knowledge as in a constant state of flux and maintain the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This “utilitarian” thought erodes individual merit and competitiveness and stipulates that children are only healthy when they are free from biased authority.

Who is more biased than parents? They love their children and many in America wish to pass on the convictions of their American Republic heritage.

One rarely discussed principle in a democracy is the principle of reversibility (which) shall be obtained. You will not find it in the Constitution, state or federal. Our forefather's did not set up a democracy. The legitimacy in a democracy lies in having citizens practiced in critical thinking attitudes. I challenge our state representatives and school administrators to be the first to take the examination based on the exiting standards AND research the “principle of reversibility” which is to maintain democratic thought throughout the world.

P.S. -- Ironically, the paragraph following the Supremacy Clause states, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

This is the dilemma. Is it possible to have a faith AND critical thinking skills.

Comments to Ms. Anderson's column can be forwarded to: PO Box 2487, Post Falls, Idaho 83877 or email:

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