In the last couple of days I’ve read and graded upwards of 150-200 papers ranging in length from 2 to 5 pages. In my creative and critical thinking classes I ask students to write a number of papers examining fallacies in popular culture, their personal lives, news media; I also ask them to author a paper on how the course has changed some aspect of their life (thinking and/or behavior). I think I willfully forget that I will later have to read and grade them all!
So it’s usually toward the end of the semester that I begin to question my refusal to give myself over to the almighty and eternally time-saving Scantran. (Not that I don’t occasionally use them; I just don’t pretend they alone sufficiently reflect students’ attainment of the skills and knowledge necessary to be adept creative-critical thinkers.)
But every time I am reminded why devoting myself to scantrans would be a travesty: my students’ papers not only reflect that they are learning important, life-changing concepts; they inspire me; they give me hope; they prove that teachers have as much to learn as they do to teach.
I have literally lost count of the number of students who have written of epiphanies afforded by our Creative and Critical Thinking course: they’ve called into question and abolished racist stereotypes; they’ve come to question reflexive endorsement of violence as the one and only legitimate method of addressing conflict between nations; through exploring the contrast between mainstream and independent media sources they’ve come to critically interrogate media representations of their society and the globe. Perhaps most excitingly of all, these students–these intelligent, critical-thinking people–have again and again put their enlightenment into action: engaging family and friends about various ethical debates surrounding torture, going to war (with Iran), the treatment and use of animals for human consumption.
After open-mindedly examining various arguments for/against these issues and developing their own reasoned judgment, these students tell of making shirts, brochures, signing petitions, making flyers, starting discussions; others have done simple but profound actions like challenging a loved-one’s reflexive stereotyping of Arabic, black, or Hispanic people.
I strongly believe that if teachers spent more time listening to, encouraging, and yes “learning” from their students, they would be far more successful in contributing to making for a stronger democratic society.