For World Thinking Day: How Before What


Hands up everyone out there who learned mostly by rote. Yeah, us too.

For a nontrivial number of parents, math is memorization, grammar is repetition, and a bunch of other subjects consist of reading, listening, writing things down, and recalling them. A lot of us were raised on a steady diet of “what to think” with the odd pinch of “how to think”. Yes, things are changing, but maybe not fast enough.

Of course, there is, and always will be, value in being able to listen carefully, take notes, organize information, and explain it clearly. But what worked for us (or maybe it didn’t work as well as we thought) 20-30 years ago isn’t going to be enough to enable our 21st century children to thrive. Straight-up information just doesn’t hold the same value that it used to. There’s much more of it than there used to be, and not all of it is true or useful.

So what’s a 21st century parent to do? Insist that your child go beyond routine and repetition. Challenge them to ask “Why?” Let them know it’s okay to turn over stones, pull ideas apart, and work with moments of doubt instead of fearing them. Teach them how to think, in addition to (or even instead of) what to think.

Here are just a few examples:

  • When discussing the mechanics of an election, also address ideas like fairness, justice and equality. How do we know we’re choosing the best leaders? What makes a great leader in the first place?
  • Pair art activities with chats about what makes something beautiful. Is it just a matter of opinion, or are there qualities that all beautiful things share? What does it take to make art and be an artist?
  • While conducting science experiments, take a moment to reflect on what it takes to do science in the first place. Are scientific truths the same for everyone, or do we bring our own thoughts and opinions into our studies? What does it mean to think like a scientist?

Be warned: there will be many cans of worms opened in this process. There will questions to which you yourself don’t know the answer. This “how” approach to thinking takes much more time than the “what” approach, and it’s nowhere as simple or straightforward. That’s kind of the whole point. Our kids are going to have challenges thrown at them that didn’t exist when we were their age. It stands to reason that the way we were taught to think and learn simply won’t work for them.

Also be warned: once you’ve opened these cans of worms, you’ll be amazed and delighted. The sweet little beings who eat all the cookies and leave their socks on the floor are capable of incredible feats of thinking. They’ll unveil a universe of questions they’ve been waiting to ask, and you’ll find that they have stock piles of new ideas of their own.

Happy World Thinking Day, everyone! Here’s to thinkers big and small, and the amazing places they’ll go.