Mastery – and thinking

We are still exploring mastery: and my last two blogs have been about the notion of ‘individualism’. A recent article by Dr Neel Burton, in the Spring edition of Families Magazine, explored ‘Why thinking should be a curriculum subject.’ This writer makes a valid point. Why are we not teaching our children to think? My own question is – how do the skills and attitudes towards critical thinking relate to mastery?

Dr Burton quotes the words of B F Skinner ‘ Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten.’ The reference here is to the accumulation of facts, many of which soon become obsolete in our changing world, if indeed they have ever mattered in the first place. Unfortunately, school learning is still composed mainly of facts and information – to the neglect of meaningful discussion that enables learners to interrogate and fully consider how such facts fit into modern life. The article goes on to suggest that emotions are utterly neglected by our system of education – leading to ‘mis-lived lives’ – or, in my own words, a lack of well being. Dr Burton is right to suggest that emotions control our lives and our destinies.

So what has thinking got to do with mastery? How frequently do teachers ask children what they think? About a topic? About difficult issues? Challenges and how to overcome them? About their own strengths and weaknesses? Are children ever invited to consider their own individualism? I suspect that such questioning happens rarely, partly because the curriculum is overcrowded with the skills and information that has to be covered. Thinking about it all is often sidelined.

Having said this, the revised curriculum (2015) has initiated an approach to learning that we call ‘depth’ as opposed to breadth. The idea is that children ‘dive down’ and ‘delve more deeply’ into their learning. This is welcomed as a start to a two-way educational channel, as it calls for more talk and discussion in the classroom. But does it go far enough? Applying greater depth to learning is useful but it is not thinking in the way that Dr Burton perceives it. His reference to alternative forms of cognition, such as emotions, intuition and imagination, go much further than ‘depth’. As do my own. Thinking is aligned to problem solving. And we have more than enough problems in this world for the next generation to solve.

Mastery is also aligned to problem solving – as individualism. All children must grow to know themselves and their capabilities, to master weaknesses. Unless we teach children to forge a place for themselves as adults in which they can excel to the best of their ability – problems remain problems. Thinking goes a long way towards mastering problems.

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