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Education: Learning or Thinking?

Arvin Michel, June 20, 2015
I recently watched a David Barton DVD in which he talked about education. The question was asked why students at the time of our country’s beginning could successfully attend Ivy League colleges at the age of 13. Were they that much smarter or was the curriculum that much easier? Now I know there was a lot less history to learn at that time, but that was not his answer to the question. He said at the present time we teach students how to learn. Back then, they taught students how to think. His statement got me to thinking. What exactly was he talking about? I assume students who are only taught to learn absorb information so they can reproduce it on a test form. Students who are taught to think know how to take the information and put it to a useful purpose. Would you agree? Rene Descartes, mathematician, said, “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”
A few days ago, I read an article about Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s. It gave his life history along with some of his successes and failures. In the 10th grade he decided after he finished school he would join the Army for a while and be a cook to get experience to start his own restaurant. He didn’t finish high school, at least not until he was 61 years old. He had some various jobs in the food business during his school years and after he dropped out. He did join the Army as a cook and after that began his restaurant career by investing in KFC. Further experience made him decide to start his own business, Wendy’s, and we know how successful that is.
Was he successful because he was taught how to learn or was he successful because he was taught how to think? It was probably some of each but we know his formal education was limited and did not include a high school diploma. Dave had a hard life while growing up and was raised by an adoptive grandmother. She was very poor, had lost her husband, and raised her own four children. But she gave Dave a lot of good advice on how to deal with life’s problems. This, which he took to heart, I believe taught him how to think and solve life’s problems thrown his way.
Novelist Tom Clancy said, “There’s two kinds of people in the world: the ones who need to be told and the ones who figure it out all by themselves.” Author John Updike said, “I was made to feel that I could do things. If you get this feeling early and can hold it until you’re 15, you tend never to lose it.” Don’t these two quotations describe Dave Thomas? They demonstrate the importance of being taught how to think and not just how to learn. For as Albert Nock, another author, said, “The mind is like the stomach. It is not how much you put into it that counts, but how much it digests.” Can the mind digest anything if it doesn’t know how to think?
Dave Thomas’ story and these quotations are very interesting, but how do we apply them to today’s educational system? That’s where I run into a roadblock, maybe because I’ve never worked in that field. However it does seem that the continual testing that our students are subjected to provides them with very little education on how to think. How can one devise a test that measures one’s ability to think, especially at the elementary to high school level? Maybe it can be done but I doubt that is what we have.
I’ve even thought that maybe this educational puzzle is less important than I’m making it. But then I remember that our educational system has declined significantly over the past many years. Something has definitely changed between then and now. Maybe the concept of learning to think has merit. It’s obviously something to think about, don’t you think?
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