Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thinking Vs. Knowing

From the Thinking Mother, and Why Homeschool, a link to the test that supposedly shows that kids know more than adults. The test is even more bizarre than the few questions hinted at in the article.

Some of the questions are general knowledge. Some are esoteric. All are pointless without a good education. How can we expect children to know these types of facts without expecting them to understand how to use them? Some people seem to get up in arms about facts in public schools--I'd like to see thinking skills in public schools.

Of course, you cannot have one without the other. You need knowledge to understand how to think. That is where public schools go all wrong. They believe it is an either-or dilemma. You either know "how to do" something or "you memorize" something. They miss that in learning facts and where they came from, you give children an example of how thinking is done. They see how it was done previously and can learn to apply it to different situations.

And in studying how we know what we know, children will finally feel certain of the knowledge they possess. How often had you sat in class (or, if homeschooled, read a book) and a specific detail is passed on--without any back up data? How many times did you think to yourself, "But how do they really know that? It was probably just a lucky guess."

When teachers say there are eight planets in the solar system they expect the children to accept that idea. Period. Because they are the teachers and the students are the students. The students learn to turn off their brains, squelch any doubt in front of the teacher (but they know there's doubt), and become recepticles of information. It is a very dogmatic approach that exists in most public schools and home schools (depending on the curriculums and books selected), especially in science.

How can the children be given facts and knowledge and thinking skills at the same time? Show how knowledge is attained! Show how facts come to be facts!

Don't just talk about how many planets there are in the solar system. Talk about the early astronomers who would observe the night sky night after night and saw that some stars changed position slowly but that other 'stars' moved much faster. Explain that after a number of years and different theories, only one theory was consistent with the location of the fast-moving 'stars.' That they were planets that orbited the sun, the same as Earth.

This teaches children how the planets were discovered, the observations required, the ideas that it generated, the continuing checking that went into it. It leads to certainty! They are simultaneously given knowledge, examples of thinking skills, and certainty.

It is this 'bottom to the top' approach that should be used in writing as well. Teach the children about the parts of speech. Teach them how sentences are constructed with each part of speech. Teach then about paragraphs.

D-ed Reckoning takes on the knowledge vs. thinking problem in a different way. This is the last part of his expert series, but it has a link to the first part.

UPDATE: Added some wording for clarity and to expand the point.


Jose said...

This is good. This article goes back to how we can model discovery and constructivist thinking within our own classrooms. Some people these days are so split along the "lines" of whether we should do all "rote" learning like we grew up with or all "discovery" which is the new method. Unfortunately, people don't get that there needs to be both for us to achieve anything. I especially liked how you said, "And in studying how we know what we know, children will finally feel certain of the knowledge they possess."

Good post. Peace ...

Kim said...

I think the idea of certainty is one of the more important ones in education. Note that NO ONE in the actual educational field has ever even mentioned it.

Thanks for commenting!