Friday, March 30, 2012

Teach How to Think, Not What to Think

In Panderbear's view our educational system concentrates too much on teaching facts and not nearly enough on learning how to think. Naturally curious children are routinely turned into fact-reciting automatons devoid of intellectual curiosity. Information is worthless if a person hasn't learned how to separate fact from fiction, logical- from magical-thinking, sound arguments from fallacious pandering, and lacks a grasp of the basics of the scientific method.

We cannot memorize every fact, so we must be able to distinguish sound arguments from illogical bias-confirming nonsense. One need not have a detailed or encyclopedic knowledge of science, only a handle on how science works, to distinguish real science from dogma masquerading as science.

Minds which lack training for fact-based logical reasoning and the scientific method cannot possibly reach their full human potential and are often at the mercy of panderers, political and religious. They reside somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from fully-realized adult human to brain-dead zombie. That does not make them worthless, but each one represents a missed opportunity for a fuller comprehension of the true nature of the universe and maximal contribution to the human endeavor.

Scientific Method

When parents prevent their child from being exposed to certain facts and techniques for rational thought, they are purposefully stunting their child's intellectual capacity in order preserve faith-based doctrine. They cripple their child's intellectual potential in the name of moral principles lacking a solid foundation in fact or reason.

If this sounds like the Rick Santorum family story, it's because Panderbear had them in mind when he wrote this post. Santorum's homeschooling of his children to prevent their exposure to morally subversive knowledge is not just a tragedy, it's a crime against a self-aware universe. How can our children surpass us if we teach them what to think, rather than how to think?

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  1. Totally agree. I think the tragic flaw in our "educational" system is that it fails to provide our kids with a basic "how to learn" toolkit for navigating the modern world. Very much like focusing on individual fish (facts) as opposed to teaching them how to fish (identify and work with facts).

    In addition to logical reasoning, I'd argue that other essential (but largely ignored) skills include:

    -- interpreting statistics. We live in a datat-intensive society, but figures lie and liars figure.

    -- problem analysis/identification. You can't solve a problem that you have not/cannot identify, but the vast majority receive zero training in how to identify root problems.
    Instead, they waste a lot of time and effort on symptoms, and never get near the underlying cause(s), and

    -- research/learning methods. How does one determine the facts of a situation? How do we "know" what the think we know? What are the more effective ways of learning karate, Farsi, interior design, set theory, cribbage, world history, real-estate appraisal, or kremlinology.



    1. Bill,

      Thanks for a thoughtful reply. Inability to properly interpret statistics leads many to misinterpret what the numbers or charts are saying or to conclude that they are just lies, even when they present verifiable facts. They discount the truth. American Exceptionalism is particular unhelpful in trying to identify problems and potential solutions by making the unwary think we have nothing to learn from the experiences of other nations. On the latter see

  2. Boy, are you guys spot on! Thank you, Panderbear for bringing this subject to the forefront. How can we elect decent legislators if we can't understand the issues? And when you can't understand the issues, you tend to ignore them and go with what sounds the easiest for you to understand, which leads us to the Sarah Palins & Rick Santorums!

    1. PHarmanci,

      Thanks for the reply.

      Bumper-sticker politics and sound-byte talking points are too simpleminded to work in our complex world. They win elections by pandering to low-information voters, but have no chance of solving our real world challenges. There is simply no substitute for an informed (not to mention intelligent) electorate.

      "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." - Thomas Jefferson. See:

  3. One more comment, if I may: in college physics class, our professor was not the norm at the time-- he wanted us to THINK. So instead of giving exams of the plug-in-the-formula variety, he would start questions like "if a flea jumped....". Few of the class would pass. Frustrated, he said "guess I have to teach you how to think and approach problems"! So he ran a remedial class on how to think your way through physics problems. Very telling of our ed. system, isn't It....

    1. PHarmanci,

      Little of Panderbear's understanding of how to think came in primary or secondary school and that's where it's really needed. Most came as an undergraduate and graduate student in physics (along with some formal logic and political science) at U.C. Berkeley way back in the middle ages.