Those adults reading this can attest to the many differences between education in the 1980s and 90s and education today.  Thirty years ago, state-of-the-art technology was wireless landline phones, mandatory airbags in cars, and the Mr. Frosty Slush Master.  While my “high-tech” educational experience took place at a rigorous college preparatory school, Detroit Country Day, the drive in the classroom was to ascertain and retain as much content knowledge as possible.  Naming states, calculating slope, memorizing the periodic table, and recalling plots and characters of classic books is what was required.

Following my graduation from high school and matriculation to college, I continued to “fill the pail” with knowledge acquisition.  It wasn’t until my first professional position that the practical application of my knowledge began.  Beyond remembering facts, I was required to predict, construct, evaluate, and defend the skills that would determine my success in the professional world.

I realized that learning is more than just the facts I had worked so hard to retain; for the first time, I was challenged to learn at a higher level.  My transition to the professional world might have been much easier had my secondary education encouraged mastery of critical thinking skills at an earlier age.

Developed over 40 years ago, the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum was a grassroots effort to design a rigorous curriculum that moved beyond content mastery.  With a focus on critical thinking skills, the popularity of the IB has continued to grow and is now represented in over 4,300 schools in 240 countries.

These critical thinking skills require students in the IB program to create a science lab, not just follow predetermined steps.  It requires them to  defend a research position, not just report the facts.

Below are actual prompts from the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course required prescribed essay.  The directions require a maximum of 1600 words and specifically state – “justify your statements and provide relevant examples to illustrate your arguments.  Pay attention to the implications of your arguments, and remember to consider what can be said against them.”

  • “The acquisition of knowledge is more a matter of recognition than of judgment.”  Evaluate this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.
  • Is the availability of more data always helpful in the production of knowledge? Explore this question with reference to two areas of knowledge.
  • “Conflicting knowledge claims always involve a difference in perspective.” Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.
  • “Error is as valuable as accuracy in the production of knowledge.” To what extent is this the case in two areas of knowledge?
  • “Metaphor makes no contribution to knowledge but is essential for understanding.” Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
  • “Ways of knowing operate differently in personal and shared knowledge.” Assess this claim.

It’s easy to see how the IB at Harrisburg Academy challenges our students to go beyond content retention and dig deeper with regular exercises in critical thinking; our Harrisburg Academy students are much further along in their education and critical thinking skills than I was at their age.  We are proud to fly the IB flag at our school, and implement its teaching in our curriculum and school community.

If you have questions about pursuing the IB at the Academy, please contact John Binnert.