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The two most important things you can teach anyone: how to think, and when not to.

I thought I’d give personal blogging a go again as I miss the type of thinking that it fosters. And by way of introduction allow me to explain that I’m rather tired; whoever the new guy is next door he likes to talk in Eastern tongues around 1-2am, loud as hell, with whoever is on the other end of Skype. And sometimes again around 5. I think it’s a cultural thing, the language sounds right shouted - and I’m sure it wouldn’t bother most people of the same cultural background where language is loud, but all I wanted to do was punch the **** so I could go back to sleep. I don’t deal well with lack of sleep. It makes me call perfect strangers “****”, for example.

On the plus side I did end up having some Deep Thoughts, as tends to happen when I’m flitting around the fringes of sleep. I like that time, and I like those types of thoughts. Last night’s brain meanderings were these:

“The most important thing you can teach someone, particularly children, is how to think.”

Because it has the most impact on them, and everyone they ever interact with. Knowing how to think well is the basis of all else, if you can do that you can start to ask meaningful questions. If you can ask meaningful questions you can start to identify what would be a meaningful answer. And if you can do that, you’re well on your way to good understanding of all you encounter, reasoned thinking, and a better relationship with the world you live in. This most important thing anyone could learn is not taught at schools.

“The second most important thing you can teach someone is when not to think.”

Because what’s truly important to a person is what they feel in their heart. That can get clouded and missed when you spend too much time in thinking. This one’s a trickier lesson and harder to teach because it’s not based on a shared logic, it’s not mathematical, it’s not universal. Because neither are hearts those things. Knowing when not to think stops a person from getting too stressed about the rights and wrongs of their choices. This second most important thing anyone can learn is not taught at schools.

If those two simple tasks were taught to children you know, reinforced and expanded as they grow up: imagine what they would be capable of. Imagine how that enables a sense of self-security, of competence, of tolerance. Imagine how a child’s mind, properly armed, could delve deeply and broadly into the experiences of life, how groups of such people would interact. Imagine what you would learn from the process.

Schools don’t teach things that are important to people. Schools, broadly speaking, teach things that are important to the economy of today.

What schools teach becomes less and less relevant as the rate of change in our world increases. I work in an industry that didn’t exist when I was at school only 20yrs ago. No academic lesson it taught is relevant to me today. What lessons you learned at school are relevant to you today? Not even arithmetic, I dare day - when was the last time you did some mental math? We live in a world where we can talk to our phones and get an answer. Schools, by and large, don’t teach much that’s useful to a person. They apply trends and do a “spray and pray” approach, with a bent toward broad sectors of employment children may end up in. While there is a need to cover the basics of a broad range of academic topics - there’s also a need to educate about non-academic topics. The chances of anything academic being useful are slim, and getting slimmer all the time. More and more we need to learn how to educate ourselves. And that is not being taught.

It’s our job to teach kids how to be better people than we are.

Teach them how to think, then teach them when not to.


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  1. Meep posted 7 days, 6hrs, 41mins after the entry and said:

    Completely agree here: At the rate technology is taking over and simplifying everything we do, there'll be no need to know how to do most of the things we're taught within about 10 years of learning them.

    We can certainly leave a lot more of the technical details to machines than we could before; schools should be aiming to instil practical and creative abilities in their students instead. Knowing things shouldn't be a top priority; understanding them should.

  2. Clive Portman posted 47 days, 11hrs, 44mins after the entry and said:

    Hmm. "What schools teach becomes less and less relevant as the rate of change in our world increases." Based on what?

    I've got this hypothesis that education is all about learning how to learn. Good teachers do a really good job of that. There's little point teaching children how to use today's technology - you don't need to. Instead, focus on learning how to learn and they be the adaptable beings they need to be. Sort of like you're saying with your thinking thing. I'm just saying maybe you're not the only one to have thought about that…

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