Education: Learning How to Think, Not What to Think

Education is a gift that many take for granted. Some view it as a necessity to survive or succeed in life. Others view it as a means to attach their self-worth to or establish superiority among their peers. These motivations connect to how students learn in school. In schools today, more emphasis is placed on memorization and attaining good grades and less on understanding and contemplating topics and growing from mistakes. Even I find that it’s simpler, and faster, to memorize my notes in order to do well on a test, instead of actually internalizing the material.

Yet, when we replace critical thinking and meaningful analysis with high standards of achievement and lists of facts, what do students actually garner from education? Perhaps they may acquire bragging rights or the ability to spout statistics. But what are students truly learning? Are we raising a generation of stressed over-achievers, drained from education, or thoughtful scholars, challenged and inspired to pursue knowledge?  

Learning to Think Well

I wrote a paper on literary censorship, and one of my main points was how education systems need more philosophers and less machines. Too often textbooks teach students what to think, and not how to think. In defiance of this, I am a firm believer in outside sources, or primary texts, accompanying the learning process.

As Joy Clarkson writes, “In a primary text, we are more aware of the contextual and conditional nature of each book… Because primary texts are not usually written for contemporary audiences in American education, we are invited to think about the intended audience; what was their world like? What were they concerned about? What did they assume was true? This both inculcates a more active and critical attitude in the student, but also protects them from any propagandist view of history, literature, and even science.”

There is only so much modern textbooks can relay, only so far they can go without letting bias overshadow their arguments. However, by interpreting the world through resources outside of the required texts of a curriculum, students gain a deeper understanding of the subjects.

Pursue Passions 

School is a time for students to explore their interests and find their passion. But enrichment of the mind should not be confined to the perimeters of lectures and homework sessions.

By surrounding oneself in pursuits pertaining to one’s passion, students reveal a thirst for knowledge, growth, and intellectual enjoyment that education programs will notice and value.

And a student’s passion impacts every area of their academic, and non-academic, life.

As my passion for literature and writing has grown, I’ve begun to observe threads in other subjects that connect to this ardor. From learning about the information theory in Biology to reading why writers need math, my delighted surprise in picking out literary elements in the scientific and mathematical field has increased my pleasure of these subjects.  

Outside of school, I’ve started collecting and creating a literary binder. It’s composed of reflections of book passages, articles/journals I’ve printed out and critiqued, quotes, book/poetry analyses, lecture notes, reflections on plays, and other pieces of literature that touch my soul. (One of the articles/posts I have in the folder is “Seven Values for Learning” by Sarah Clarkson. I encourage everyone to check it out — it gave me a deeper understanding of why we learn.) I It may appear meaningless to some, especially since it doesn’t count toward a grade or extracurricular activity, but it’s all for the purpose of sharpening my mind and deepening my love for literature. So it’s vital and valuable to me.

No matter how exhausting and challenging education seems when we’re in the throes of it, it is shaping us. It is equipping and preparing us with the tools to pursue our passion and influence society. Once we view our minds as something to cherish and edify, we can gain a clearer understanding of and appreciation for education. 

9 responses to “Education: Learning How to Think, Not What to Think”

  1. I totally agree with you! Fortunately, I go to a classical high school where we learn HOW to think, not just WHAT to think. I really appreciate my teachers and how well they’re preparing me for adult life where I will soon need to form my own ideas and opinions about difficult topics. Great post!

  2. Yes this is SO true! I have also experienced first hand how setting yourself free to pursue your interests (even the ones that aren’t the most financially lucrative) can build interest in other areas of school. It has been a game changer.
    Thank you for this post!

    • For sure! I’m so glad you have observed that and are pursuing your passion! That makes me very happy. (: Thank you for reading, Cynthia!

  3. I love and agree with all the great points you made, Abbi! yes, education is really important. Nice Job! 🙂

  4. Your literary binder sounds like a really
    good idea. I’m sure you’ll refer to the many articles in the future. I appreciate your love of literature and knowledge.

  5. Amen to this Abbi. Teacher should act as a facilitator. It is very important of course to learn various indisputable facts and truths to use through out life. Once that foundation has been planted a teacher should never visit her particular bias on her students. Sadly I think that is often being done. Outside information as you suggest is truly the key but many people would just rather except the information as dished out to him.

    • I fully agree. Indoctrination seems to parade education halls more than critical thinking these days. And, sometimes, it’s under the guise of critical thinking. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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