Let’s take a picture walk through African history…

Africa (1910)

German Southwest Africa, Belgian Kongo, or Rhodesia ring a bell?

Africa (1970)

Sixty years later these country names are looking a little more familiar perhaps.

Africa (2015)

And here we are today. Pop quiz time …

What is the capital of South Sudan, Africa’s newest country? (as of the time of this writing anyway).

If you know then kudos to you.  But ask yourself why you know – do you love memorizing maps?  Are you from the area?  Do you have a personal connection?  If you don’t have any earthly idea you are probably in the majority – and if you want to know the answer you are then left with no other option but figuring out a way to find out, aka you will need critical thinking skills.

Teaching content is arguably the easy bit, with some variation on “drill and kill”leading to what in curricular terms is euphemistically called coverage.  Standards are “met” benchmarks are “checked” and we all move merrily along.

Now take a moment to reflect on the courses you took in college.  Have a few you remember?  Ok – now try and recall ten things you learned in one of those courses.  Not so easy eh.  So what did I learn in college?  The art of finding out, inquiring, researching, knowing what questions to ask and where to find the answers – aka uncoverage. 

Don’t misunderstand me, content in the form of “skills” is an essential building block for scaffolding our understanding of all the “knowledge” that is out there, especially that which comes in the form of a Google search.  But think about it this way – what’s the point of having maps if you don’t know how to read them and use them to get from point A to B?

All the jargon now is on preparing students for jobs that don’t exist.  I agree, but if one extends the reasoning further then logically it isn’t possible to know what “content” they will need to know to be successful in those jobs.  The proverbial catch 22.

As an educator I believe that the best that I can do for my students  is to equip them with a critical thinking mindset, setting them up with a mental toolbox that they can use throughout their educational careers to problem solve whatever challenges await them.

Which brings us full circle back to where we started.  What is the capital of South Sudan?  And do you have the critical thinking skills to find out?