So for students who don’t somehow learn to improve their thinking, these are opportunities for failure, and going to school becomes little more than a series of frustrating experiences. He supports this claim with a set of nine research-based principles:
My current favorite item on this list is #3: “Memory is the residue of thought.” Isn’t that a lovely metaphor? But it’s also an interesting idea: that students aren’t going to remember things they don’t actually think about. And when you consider the amount of thought that typically goes into most student work (say, a PowerPoint presentation about a U.S. President), it’s no surprise that they don’t remember anything.
But this leads to a question: What sort of work will demand or inspire thought? This leads you back to #1 on this list: that the “cognitive conditions” must be right or we’re just going to avoid thinking altogether. So if we want to get students thinking, we need to first consider these “cognitive conditions” and how they affect the primary function of the school as a place that elevates thinking and learning above all other concerns.
To extend this metaphor even further, you can imagine that right now the cognitive climate in most schools is being manipulated by a large number of interconnected thermostatic controls, and some of those controls are set to HIGH. Further, we don’t talk about it; there is very little collective thought on the part of teachers or administrators about the overall cognitive climate, and as a result we have a cognitive climate, a set of “cognitive conditions,” characterized by incoherent and fragmented thought.
For example (and these are my pet examples, offered as illustration, open to dispute):
I have more, but I’ll hold my examples to these three. But even if you disagree with my list, I’m sure you have a list of equally absurd things that schools do: unenforceable tardy policies or dress codes, strange budgetary priorities, et cetera. The point is that we accept these sorts of system-level dysfunction without considering how they affect the general cognitive climate of the school. We who work in schools rarely consider our professional thought as a model of intelligent human activity. And it may well be that my assumption above, that schools are places that elevate thinking and learning above all other concerns, is itself a fantasy.
Charlie Huette is a public school teacher who also keeps a notebook. He dreams about making school just a little less terrible. Many of the posts you find here are based on notebook entries. You can learn more about Charlie by visiting the about page.