Sunday, October 25, 2009

Teaching Children to Think

Growing up my Aunt Paula, a former teaching assistant a Los Angeles elementary school, had one frustration with the children in her classroom:
"Everyday the teacher gives the assignment and just minutes afterwards a student will come up to me and say, 'Miss Galvez, I don't get how to do this.' Now I know they haven't even taken enough time to read the instructions, much less try to figure it out. I got tired of telling them over and over to try to do the work before coming to me, so I got this engraved name plate with the word THINK on it. If they came and asked me too quickly I would simply hold up the nameplate and they would go back to their desks."

This story affected how I approached education. Not to say that I don't ask questions. In fact, every teacher and fellow student will tell you that I'm one of the most inquisitive people they know. However, the questions I ask are usually not of the norm and either come ahead of time as clarifications or much later after I've had time to contemplate and attempt some solutions.

Apparently this line of thought is not the norm. For all out internet technology the ability to "think" has yet to become a mainstream trend. We see it all the time and blame it as a problem with "youth," but it is a problem with the society that influences and teaches youth. Think about the two following examples:

  1. My friend Carol is taking back a pair jeans that she purchased on a 2 for 1 special. She is merely exchanging the pants because they are the wrong color. The pants she wants are the same brand and the same price, only a different color. Sounds like a clear exchange, right? She ended up debating for twenty minutes with the clerk because the computer said she owed $2.65 for the 2 for 1 deal. Eventually, my friend had to ask the clerk to quit relying on the computer and think about the exchange for himself.

  2. My friend Jen is lecturing about religion in a World History class. She asked every single class how many gods are there in the world? Every single person answers, "One." She asks, "Really? What about Pagans, Wiccans and Hindus?" They give her a blanks stare and answer once again that only one god exists.

I don't blame the school system. The problem with out children's inability to think is a cooperative problem. Though we preach the benefits of "thinking for oneself", what incentive do people really have to teach this?

  • America has a love hate relationship with youth: We love the look of youth and the freedom by which we associate with it. We are also afraid of youth because they bring a different culture that will someday replace our own. It's tough to think that your contributions on this earth might get lost.
  • Most people in authority don't want that authority challenged: My parents hated when I challenged their authority. Even I grit my teeth when my child makes and valid argument that effectively counters my line of thought. If we teach children to think then they might disprove our theories, poke holes in our logic, and actually grow to be smarter and do better than us. Or, more realistically, they may prompt us to continue growing as humans.

Honestly, if anyone wants to look for a long-term solution to economic, cultural, human problems, then taking the step in teaching children to think will be a step in the right direction.

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