The education system in the mainland of PRC has been acknowledged as an system that focusing on rote learning rather than teaching students to be innovative and thinking independently. This article discusses the challenges of teaching critical thinking skill (hereinafter "CT" skill) to students in the English class of the first year of the secondary school in China, namely Chinese adolescents around 12-14 years old, in order to analyze the factors effecting the teaching of CT, the underlying problems for promoting CT skills in Chinese secondary school and the possible solutions. To begin with, the general structure of the secondary school in China and the curriculum of English class are introduced as the background of this paper; in addition, how the relevant cultural and social factors (e.g. the influence of the parents and the thinking pattern in the Chinese traditional culture and philosophy) challenge the developing of the students' critical thinking are also illustrated through the typical cases. Corresponding suggestions for the problems solutions follow a comprehensive summary of the challenges, and the conclusion is given at the end of this paper.
School education in the mainland of China emphasizes academic scores based on the memorizing of the "factual knowledge" more than everything. On the contrary, unfortunately the skill of critical thinking (hereinafter "CT") attracts much less attention and barely be taught to students systematically in schools. As a reflection of the negative outcome, many reports point out that the lack of adequate critical thinking capability has cause the Chinese students afflicted with extreme difficulties in their higher education (e.g. O'Sullivan and Guo 2004). Under such circumstance, the sufficient developing of critical thinking skills in the adolescent period turns out to be quite important. In the meanwhile, with the increasingly closed international economic and cultural communication, Chinese society gradually gets a clearer perspective of the functions of CT skills, yet very few reform and improvement has been processed in education system. In order to understand the underlying contradictions and figure out the potentially possible solutions, therefore, obviously it is necessary to examine how the present teaching system works in Chinese schools at the very beginning, to be more specific, the secondary schools, at the same time, decomposing the disadvantage and advantages of promoting CT skills under the current mechanism.
This paper begins with a literature-review-based overview of the definition, scope and function of CT. Followed by the present structure of secondary school and the relationship between teachers and students in China; and then how the parents may impact on the CT of the children in China and the lack of CT teaching in Chinese traditional culture; Next, the root causes of the challenges of promoting CT skills in English class are discussed on the ground of the description and in-depth analysis of both teaching approaches and teaching materials. The relevant strategies are given afterwards. Finally, there is a conclusion summarizing the above-mentioned content.
What is Critical Thinking and Why develop it?
The definition of CT remains a debatable topic among the scholars, even if its function and status in modern education has already been recognized. However there are still arguments remaining, which mainly surround the nature of the CT, namely whether it shall be considered as a general ability which can be applied to any discipline (Ennis,1962) or a specific one to a context and discipline ( McPeck, 1981). According to Golding (2010), this debate still continues through the works of Moore (2004) which supports the opinion of the specific ability while Davies (2006) takes the apparently contrary position in regard to this issue. Since the main point in this paper is to discuss the questions in detail under the certain conditions, logically speaking, it is rational to emphasize the concrete discussion rather than focusing on the abstract discussion of the definition of CT. On the other hand, the issue mentioned above renders the scope and the functions of CT extremely important: what kinds of capabilities are going to be cultivated and developed for the young students, in a English class of the first year of a Chinese secondary school? In addition, how can those skills work for the benefits of those adolescents, in both their study and lives?
For the scope and contents of CT, Golding (2010) outlines five perspectives of CT on the ground of the previous scholars' work, which can be concluded shortly as (a) be skilled and able to evaluate or analyze; (b) dispositions and the tendency or preparedness to engage in critical thinking, such as being reasonable or analytic; (c) a sophisticated epistemic understanding involving the insight that critical thinking is about constructing and evaluating reasoned judgments, not about finding the one right answer or just swapping opinions; (e) to employ and fulfill criteria for what counts as successful critical thinking; (f) an understanding of the subject matter they are thinking about. It is worth to be highlighted that Golding emphasizes the fulfillment of all of the above-mentioned conditions as the qualifications for a "critical thinker". According to his theory, a "critical thinker" must be skilled and sophisticated, which requires a "community of critical thinking" to get the learner involved in the atmosphere and activate his/her CT capability. This assertion in fact supports the opinion that skills of CT can be and only be gained by taking the highly professional training from the experts, to be more precise, the teachers in school.
The last question include: why CT skills have to be developed and why it has to be developed in Chinese schools? It is commonly accepted that the root cause of the emphasis of the critical thinking skills are the all kinds of and higher standards for the members' skills in present society (e.g. Rose, 1997. Abbot & Ryan, 2000). In the first place , CT skills can bring forward many advantages for the students' personal lives from a pragmatistic perspective. In the short term, developing CT skills contributes to promote the learning capability, creativity and innovation. In the long term, to be able to think, analyze and make decisions independently is essential for one's self-cultivation and pursuing self-achievement. For example, curricular prescriptions have shown decreasing emphasis on content knowledge and increasing emphasis on transferable skills such as critical and creative thinking and collaborative problem solving in a number of countries (e.g.,MacBeath,1999; Scottish Executive Education Department, 2000), both as a means to facilitate deeper learning and as important life skills. In parallel, such skills have been seen as part of the changing skill set required by employers (e.g.,Abbott & Ryan, 2000; Powney & Lowden, 2000). In the second place, with the increasing communication between China and western countries, the young generation are confronted with the challenges of western culture and various thinking pattern and face much more challenges and competitions, while CT skills were the fundamental weakness in Chinese education system.
Structure of Secondary School in China
The class is the basic unit of education in Chinese secondary school (Lo, 2001). Generally speaking, there are three grades in every secondary school while each one is composed of several classes. This structure apparently attributes to the unique status of the class teacher's role, which becomes both complicated and concentrated. Beyond the duty of subject teacher and the student guidance, a class teacher in Chinese secondary school may also be regarded as the moral leader, manager of the class as well as the protector of the student. According to Lo (2001), in a key secondary school in Shanghai, class teachers were found "multifaceted role in providing pastoral care, moral and character education". In addition, Cheng (1992) particularly pointed out the responsibility and the function of the teacher as moral standards for students in secondary schools, which is derived from the traditional Chinese culture that the teachers are under the responsibility of "teaching person" as well as "teaching knowledge". This phenomenon implies the subordination of the students to the teacher, whom is not only the one teaching the knowledge but also the one holding the moral standards and common values. A question therefore arises: in a circumstance where a student around early teenager time, about 12-14 years old, gets used to obey the management of the teacher in almost every aspects of his life, including his moral standard and personal value, is it easy for him to make individual judgments and develop independent thoughts?
In short, the secondary school in China can be considered as a de facto multi-level mechanism, composed by the basic education unit managed by the class teacher. The class teacher takes a significant role in the class of secondary school in China, impacting the thoughts, personalities and the lives of the students.
How the family environment affects critical thinking skills of Chinese adolescents
Previous research shows the ways of the adolescents getting involved in decision-making process of the family issues and the parent-child relationship may both impact on the capability of the adolescents. To begin with, adolescent decision-making is usually related to the permissive parents and leads to outcome and positive behaviors contributing to independent thinking and creativity,while lack of decision-making experience and parental supervision in adolescent period is often associated with authoritarian parents and negative outcomes which may cause adverse impact on the development of criticality (Baumrind, 1967; Harbin & Madden, 1983). And then, the condition of the parent-child relationship may also influence on the development of the adolescence's CT skills. Lau & Leung (1992) found out in their research in Hong Kong that a good and organic parent-child relationship are generally linked to higher self-concepts, better school performance, social skills, physical ability and other qualities in favor of promoting CT of the adolescent, while poorer relationships with parents were reported to be connected with misconducts and delinquency, as well as more psychological symptoms ( Lau & Leung, 1992; Shek, 1997).
Despite the commonly accepted theories, the two aspects of the Parent-Child Relationship specified in Chinese family shall be highlighted in relation to the development of Chinese adolescents' capacity of criticality. One is the traditional Chinese family value focusing on children's obedience to their parents (Ho, Sprinks &Yeung 1989). Based on the findings of Feldman & Rosenthal (1991), such value reflected as the less expectations and later age from parents for the independence of their children comparing to the American and Australian families, also less emphasis on individualism of the children.In addition, the expectations on adolescents may vary on the gender of the children; it was reported that sometimes the expectations towards the daughter in the family are obviously lower than which towards the son. The other aspect is the adverse impact of the one-child policy in China, which has more or less altered the parents' authorities in the family.It is reported that the parents in the one child family express less controlling, and their children get more participation in family decision- making (Fablo & Boston, 1994; Guo, 2001). However, the one child family does not necessary have advantages in promoting the CT skills and independence of the children __(teamwork, cognitive capability, innovation disadvantages...etc.å¾…è¡¥)
Lack of Critical Thinking in Traditional Chinese Culture
Kwang (2001) states that compared to the western tradition emphasizing self-achievement and self-reliance, Asian culture focusing much more on the group approval and obedience to the authorities. Westerners, according to Kwang, frankly and directly differentiate themselves from each other to establish their self-value and uniqueness, while the Asians tend to be more cautious, indirect, restricted by social order, considering harmony and obedience to the parents more important than individual independence and self-value.Based on this ground, Kwang distinguished the ideals of socializations between western countries and eastern countries. He argued that the westerners trend to "identify those positively valued attributes of the self that accentuates the person's uniqueness",which leave the space for the individuals to criticize of the environment surrounding them. On the contrary, Asians prefer to draw the adolescence' attention on their mistakes and shortages, in order to bring up their awareness that the differences may lead to isolated, the ideal was to merging with the group. In addition, the culture of keeping the face ("mian zi") also___ï¼ˆRichmond 2008, Zhao, Zhang ,Yang and etc.. 2008) å¾…è¡¥ï¼šé¢åæ-‡åŒ-
In relation to the above-mentioned theories, some scholars hold the opinion that the CT skills are absent in Chinese education due to the traditional culture, especially in the period of secondary school (Sullivan and Guo, Richmond)._____è¡¥å®Œå…·ä½“å†…å®¹. However, Zhao (2008) claimed that Chinese students took adequate education of critical thinking skills which are scattered in several classes such as logic, mathematic and histories.(å¾…è¡¥)