Education: What Does It Mean For Our Kids To “Think for Themselves”?

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John Manchester

We all think, right?

After all, our minds are constantly filled with thoughts every waking moment.

However, in the process of being taught, whether in school, at university, or even in a business environment, have you ever been taught how to think, as opposed to some fact, equation, formula or process?

If you answered “yes” truthfully, you are fortunate. Such teaching is quite rare. This is somewhat ironic and perplexing, as being able to think for yourself is fundamental to becoming properly educated, truly effective, and intellectually independent.

Without that capability, you are most probably simply parroting and repeating what you have been taught; and so, apart from anything else, are vulnerable to the potential lack of quality in what you have supposedly learned. As the phrase goes: “Garbage in, garbage out”. This applies to the minds of human beings just as much as it does to computer programmes, algorithms or models; and is, in no way, meant to be insulting. Like anything else, one needs to learn and practice how to think.

However, before we develop the point further in this and subsequent articles, it makes sense to discuss what exactly we mean by “thinking”, which is such a familiar word that we often just assume everyone agrees upon what it means.

What does it mean to “think”?

Beyond the standard dictionary definitions, how should we define the term in a way that is useful for our purpose?

Firstly, it needs to be qualified – to focus on a process that is valuable and productive. Of course, we all need to daydream and to let our minds and subconscious wander, as that is the foundation for much that is creative in this world. However, the emphasis needs to be on what will benefit a child or student.

For example, find out what really interests a child/student, and set them a task related to that interest which requires them to think about how to do it. Push them slightly beyond their “comfort zone” so that they have to “think”. There does not have to be a “correct” answer. It is the application and process which matter.

Secondly, “thinking” in the sense we intend to use it means, in our opinion (and please feel free to disagree!) a conscious activity with a specific purpose or goal that is of advantage to the thinker’s intellectual progress and development. A true teacher does not teach facts, but rather their significance, purpose, value, and application, so that the student (who should be actively participating) can gain a better understanding of a particular topic.

Parents can help by asking their child to describe to them what they learned at school in their own words; what they found interesting (and not!). This requires the child to recall and think about what they studied, which in itself helps to reinforce learning.

The term “thinking” refers to “the process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something”, which at least hints at this being an active process (as is reaching for education itself).

Using this definition to start, how can we begin to read, talk and live to evoke discussion and provoke questions from our youth?

Let us know in the comments below.

Check out more posts in the Reaching for an Education series.

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