Here's an idea: cogitate before you educate

6th September 2013 at 01:00

Some cautionary remarks and careful clarifications are needed before we uncritically embrace the idea that thinking should be taught in schools ("Philosophy of thought that lasts a lifetime", Professional, 23 August).

There are different kinds of thinking to be considered - for example, the narrow, "calculative thinking" strongly criticised by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, or thinking as a "free spiritual activity", as advocated by educationalist Rudolf Steiner in The Philosophy of Freedom.

When thinking in schools is spoken of in terms of "a cohesive structured approach" within an "accredited programme" through which students are taught that they "can use a range of thinking skills to overcome any problems", it begins to sound like the mechanistic approach to thinking that can typify cognitive behavioural therapy. Many have criticised this form of therapy for its inappropriate "technologising" of human experience.

A fixation with thinking can become an unconscious defence against being and experiencing. The antidote to this danger is a holistic, humanistic approach to education that honours the body and the heart as much as it does the mind. The modest gains made around "emotional literacy" in recent years by the schooling system could easily be put at risk if this new fashion for mechanising thinking were grafted on to a curriculum that is arguably already far too skewed towards the academic. Invoking a rationale linked to "economic imperatives" to justify this new fashion serves only to reinforce this concern.

We need critical thinking about thinking itself, lest these kinds of errors are made by advocates driven by un-thought-through ideological motivations - especially if Antoine de Saint-Exupery was right when he wrote, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Dr Richard House, Department of Education Studies and Liberal Arts, University of Winchester.

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