Letter: Critical thinking cannot be taught by giving students iPads

To the Editor:

I am a 2004 graduate of RHS and a former writer of the column “Notes from Institution.” I benefited from Ridgefield’s excellent school system, and have recently learned that the school board is proposing budget cuts that would eliminate what I believe to be one of the most beneficial parts of the RHS curriculum: individual meetings between English teachers and students. It may seem a trifling thing to be concerned about, and you may wonder why I feel strongly enough to write to this paper after 13 years’ absence from its pages.

Here is why: our public discourse is in sore need of people with the ability to think critically, to be comfortable engaging with questions that have no right or wrong answers, and to defend their opinions in a civil and thoughtful way based on evidence rather than emotion. These skills cannot be taught by giving students iPads, they cannot be taught in a math class, and they cannot be taught through the five-paragraph essay. They can, however, be taught by meeting individual students to discuss how they communicate their ideas on literature, which is complex and abstract but less emotionally charged than current events. It seems a perversion of the standards of an “excellent” education to mandate that a department which tailors its instruction at the individual level should conform to the one-size-fits-all classroom that is so common in other departments. Insofar as the English department is trying to nudge students towards a greater capacity for insight and enlightened debate, this should be applauded because it is so rare, not denied because it is so expensive. I am certain that the school board can find ways to cut other areas that would not have as immediate an effect on shaping what should be the next generation of critical thinkers.

Jim Marrone

Ridgefield High School, Class of 2004