201. Thinking

In school, thinking is usually treated as a method for solving problems, or as a means toward some other end. It’s less often considered a goal in itself. I don’t know why, but let me think about it. I’m sure I’ll come up with a reason. Maybe even more than one. Being retired, I have plenty of time to think. Reading this article, you have no way of knowing how long I had to think before, during, and after the time I wrote the first draft. I’ll start the second paragraph when I have some idea why thinking doesn’t seem to be valued more in the school curriculum.
Okay. I’ve thought of some reasons. First of all, teachers often have to prove that they’ve taught. If they want to prove that they’ve taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, it’s not so hard – just have children read, write, and compute. If they do those things better after a certain amount of time in a teacher’s class, that teacher usually gets some credit for
the improvement. Progress in science, social studies, and the arts is a little murkier, but it’s still somewhat quantifiable.
But how is a teacher going to prove that she/he has taught children how to think? And how is the community going to respond or react when people hear that teachers are teaching children how to think? Isn’t that brainwashing? Who’s to say any teacher’s thinking is clear enough to serve as a model for children? Shouldn’t teachers stick with the skills that get tested on standardized tests? Some thinking is involved there, but only enough to get the right answers.
But I’ve seen excellent lessons that focus on children’s thinking. I once came upon a logic unit for high school. It taught students what a syllogism was, examined several kinds of logical errors people make, and gave them strategies for avoiding these errors in their own thinking. A few times, I’ve used and seen other teachers use a thinking lesson to make the transition from one unit to another. For example, after a unit on insects and before a unit on fairy tales, I asked children how fairy tales were like insects. The children came up with great answers. Two I remember well are that both fairy tales and insects have three parts (beginning, middle, and end; head, thorax, and abdomen) and that both have been around for a long time. Answers like those won’t show up on standardized tests, but they’re evidence of good use of time spent in school.
Not everything worthwhile can be tested, and I think a lot of time is wasted testing to see whether children have learned. Schools, at their best, are very different from factories; there isn’t a fool-proof way to check the products to see whether they’re good enough. But in my opinion, the ability to think is an important skill that can prove very useful in later life. And it’s an appropriate subject for the school curriculum, even though it can’t be tested as easily as addition and subtraction can.

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