Discovering Passion for Thinking (aka Teaching Students what Education Is)

Emphasize how each discipline develops widely useful types of thinking (rather than job skills or test results).

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What if each class's outcome was overtly focused on understanding and applying a way of thinking?

If students understand the thinking that each subject they study develops, and then are guided to identify and apply that thinking--to solving a problem in their personal lives, to performing a task at work, to better understanding their society--they could begin to appreciate that education is not answering test questions, learning a job skill, or indoctrination but instead is the cultivation of each student's individual thinking.  Education can then become the journey to self-awareness that leads to successful career and personal decisions rather than a rush into choosing which professional skills to acquire before most students can possibly know what they want in life.  Developing thinking--and the understanding that focus creates--is rewarding in itself, but students need to be shown and experience this ultimate value of authentic learning to understand and fully appreciate education, and it is prerequisite to the self-initiated learning (is there any other kind?) required to be successful in college.

My method here is in essence using metaphor to draw out connections between disciplinary subject matter and some apparently irrelevant domain in order to illustrate the more general application of each discipline.

Examples: (I offer these to illustrate; I'm sure experts in each discipline can conceive other general education traits and more accurate terminology.)

* Music studies could illustrate and emphasize the difference between univariate and multivariate (or even synthetic?) thinking: Have students visually depict their responses to a monophonic passage versus a polyphonic one.  Discussion of the resulting graphs/pictures/whatever would then use student perspectives to demonstrate the difference between these modes of thought.  Then students could be assigned a choice of tasks, some addressed singularly and some collaboratively (which will in itself illustrate the value and pitfalls of multivariate thought): 

    --Write the script of a univariate conversation and then one of a multivariate.  What's the difference?  What is the value of each?  Drawbacks?

    --You and your best friend have had an argument.  Come up with a solution using each type of thought.  How do the solutions differ?  What do those differences imply about the usefulness of each type of thought?

    --Describe a marketing program promoting a lemonade stand in your neighborhood using each type of thought.  What are the opportunities and pitfalls of each approach?

    --Describe the Presidential election from the perspective of each type of thought.  Can you give examples of each type of thought from the world around you?  What are the implications?

* English Composition could be taught as demonstrating the process for all creative endeavors.

* Mathematics (really not my subject!) could use simple math errors to emphasize the accuracy required to gain useful results, or calculus vs. the algebraic limit approach to solving a problem could suggest how to find room for  imaginative possibilities within stringently logical confines (such as engineering a specific object).

*Environmental Science could emphasize the systems conception of the world as a way to introduce students to systems thinking generally.

*Composing a painting in a studio class (or interpreting a complex work in an appreciation class) could emphasize how conceptual composing creates the order and simplicity that enables complex problems to be explored and moved toward solution.  

Have a doc or slides that you're collaborating in? Link it here.

Excerpted from the "Cultivate Student Passion" section of this web site: "'My only motivation to complete homework, and cram for tests was the grade, which seemed to be the only apparent purpose and outcome of learning.'--–Rachel, College Student, Chicago"


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lisa Yokana

Sorry to hear you left the field out of frustration. I feel like we need as many of you as possible! How might you flesh this idea out to better prepare students for college? I agree with the concept of teaching students to think "like historians" or "like artists" and thus making them more aware of their own thinking processes. I'm hoping that Rachel will team up with you here! I'd love you to reiterate!

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