Can People be Taught to Think?

I remember years ago working with a school administrator who was consulting his community about introducing a new form of education delivery. It really was not all that new and it was not really that revolutionary; the key change was that students would be (gasp) encouraged to think for themselves.

The proposed delivery model was a little different than what the very traditional community had grown accustomed to and seeing as that was the case, a consultation process was put into place.

Part of the consultation process required us to meet with community groups and describe the changes that were being proposed. The fundamental change was that students would have significantly more choice about what they studied at what time of the day. The curriculum was not going to change, the content, the required courses, all that stuff was to remain the same.

Imagine that, students being allowed to think for themselves; some students do not want to begin the day with Math. So they can pull out a Socials text or a novel to ease into the day. Someone might want to get the math work out of the day while their mind os fresh. Have at it. Seems pretty reasonable to me. I saw the “new delivery model” as an opportunity to let the students make some decisions about what worked for them. Really, they were being encouraged to (gasp) think about themselves and what they needed to be successful.

Knowing all this, the administrator asked me to accompany him to a luncheon with the local Rotary Club. The small business owners in the community wanted to know what he was planning and had summoned him to this luncheon to explain this “new school stuff.”

We described the delivery model and how students were being encouraged to think for themselves and all the good outcomes other locations had with this model and so on.

At the end of the presentation this one blow-hard business owner puffed his monstrous belly up into his chest and very grandiosely proclaimed that “All this thinking stuff is fine but I want an employee who, when I tell him to sweep the shop floor, he knows to damn well do it.”

All his brothers-in-trade harrumphed their approval.

Sadly, I saw the administrator basically roll over and let the stuffed shirt win the day.

On the drive home I asked, “What did you think of what Mr Big-Belly-Stuffed-Shirt had to say?”

The administrator never looked sideways when he said to me, “If I was in his shop I would want an employee who was able to look at the shop floor and know that it needs to be swept and do it before I had to tell him to do it.”

I have no idea why he did not tell the stuffed shirt this point but after that meeting the new delivery model idea basically fizzled.

Everyday when I am out in the community as a consumer I see so many young people waiting for someone to tell them to sweep the floor and completely unable to see that they could just pick up the broom and sweep the floor. Tragic.