The Lost Art of Thinking
By Jeannette Webb
My online dictionary defines Thinking as “the process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something.” My Noah Webster 1828 dictionary defines it as being “capable of a regular train of ideas.”
I’m convinced that thinking is a lost art. I know many people with college degrees who honestly don’t know how to think. They can do the work put in front of them. They regurgitate facts extremely well. They can spout another person’s opinion as their own. But to truly think – to take an idea and wrestle with it all the way to its logical conclusion is, in fact, beyond them. Even further afield is the ability to take an existing idea and work with it creatively until something new is forged.
I believe there are many reasons we have few thinkers today.
First, our lives are a constant interruption. No chance for a regular train of ideas here. We tweet, we comment on Facebook, we tear around the internet, and watch sound bites on TV. Our brains may move quickly, but I’m convinced they rarely prod deeply.
Secondly, thinking takes time. In a world that values speed, efficiency, and multi-layer resumes, we’ve forgotten the value of sitting in the hammock and pondering.
Finally, few families place value on cultivating actual thinking skills. Unfortunately this includes families who are paying for expensive private school educations as well as families who have made the sacrifice to homeschool their kids. We are efficient and get a lot done. We spare no expense to provide outstanding textbooks. We provide the best activities and experiences possible. And yet, we still miss the boat.
Training the Intellect
I believe wholeheartedly that we need to value intelligent conversation in our homes. I never allowed my young children to just spout off an opinion. Even when they were very small we would have Socratic dialog – a tender give and take. I would gently question their opinion, their thought process, even their words. I took the time to get to the heart of what they were trying to express. In the end, I would either commend them on a job well done or gently show them where a rabbit trail got them off track.
I routinely asked my children to back up what they were saying and they would trot off for books or dictionaries or encyclopedias. I would help them chase their thoughts all the way to their logical conclusion. It is important that children learn early that ideas have consequences whether it is staying up too late and having an unproductive day the next day or whether it is foreign policy that will impact millions of lives. No matter how old your child or how important the issue, it is intellectually dishonest to only take a thought halfway.
My kids soon learned that they had to think carefully before engaging mom and it became a game that delighted our time together: our days, our meals, our leisurely evenings, and our car rides.
Our homeschool did not place value on regurgitated facts (which is not education at all). We didn’t use textbooks prior to high school (except in math), we didn’t use workbooks much at all. We used living books and discussed them thoroughly. We spent a great deal of time developing speaking skills. We wrote a great deal. At age 14, we added formal debate training to help develop skills in logic, argumentation, thinking on their feet, and looking at both sides of an issue.
Dinner Table Conversations
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Eating meals together as a family (no TV, no radio, no cell phones, no distractions) is of critical importance if you want to develop thinking kids. An evening meal happens every day – like clockwork. You can count on it. By tying this important skill development to a known event, your chances of actually accomplishing it are much higher. Sure, things happen and sometimes there are outside commitments, but is should be a rare occurrence. Eating together and learning to think together should be the norm.
I love the Bible because of the sweep of history found there. God talks about both blessings and cursings following a family for generations. He shows how bad choices reverberate down through history. By grounding your children in the sweep on the Bible, of history, of your own family’s choices through the generations, it is possible to impress upon them the gravity of careful thought. When we make choices, it’s not just today we are dealing with and not just our own lives. Therefore, our choices, the result of our thought processes whether faulty or accurate, matter a great deal.
Don’t be Afraid of Challenges
The result of this type of training will probably be children who think well and quickly. Don’t be surprised when the day comes that they challenge your own thought process. I love my kids too much to be intimidated by that and have found that this iron sharpening iron has made us all better thinkers and ultimately better people.
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