Students know, man, they just know.

There’s a high schooler named Azeem Hill. Here’s his blog.

One of his teachers told me something he said at a conference last week:

“You can’t have critical thinking without critical conditions.”

I wonder sometimes why we even have education professors when a thoughtful high school junior can come up with something like this. I listen to future teachers, current teachers, experienced teachers talk in nauseating depth about how important critical thinking is to their practice but what they really mean is that they include the critical thinking question at the back of the chapter for homework.

You can’t think critically about a boring textbook. But you also can’t think critically when the situation doesn’t demand it. I might have a great social studies assessment but unless I’ve really scaffolded the project correctly, unless the students understand what’s at stake with the project, unless we’ve figured out — together — how we’re going to attack a problem, then it’s not a critical situation. It doesn’t have to be brakes or a transmission. It could be a poem that unlocks a new meaning, a document that explains how someone viewed the past, a formula that opens new possibilities for figuring out how the world works. Great teachers help kids discover this and then get out of the way.