Saturday, November 05, 2011

Banishing the Thinking, Questioning Mind from Classrooms

Information is static. It is thinking that transforms information into something worth pursuing. So in this information age, are we equipping our students to think or are we just directing them to more and more information? To more facts, more opinions, more nonsense.

And how about the need to understand questions. As R. G. Collingwood argued, we can understand a text only when we have understood the question to which it is an answer. In a sense, the text gives us "possible" answers to only those questions that have been asked. And the same text will vary based on the angles from which questions are posed.

However, a majority of our classrooms are not at all capable of infusing this spirit of enquiry. Despite all technological advances we still seem to be pathetically conservative in our understanding of education. It is still all about exams, professional courses, career and survival. Yes, survival. How to survive the competition and how to focus on self-centered growth. And for this we need measurable outcomes--outcomes that are already determined. And if outcomes are already determined and education is just about measuring where the student stands in relation to the expected outcomes, then what is the role of thinking and questioning (despite all this talk about higher-order thinking). If you already know what someone's higher order thinking will result in, it's not higher order thinking. Let's modestly call it problem-solving.

Education is not just about gathering knowledge. It is not even just about learning to apply this knowledge in some practical context. It is also about learning to question knowledge, methods and accepted wisdom. This sense of questioning and thinking is not to be mistaken with some corporate terms like "out-of-the-box" thinking--which is just another nicer term for problem-solving. Yes, education is not just about problem-solving. It's also about learning to pose new problems which may not have a neat solution. It's not just about learning to reason or accepting truth based on evidence. It's also about about being compassionate to fellow human beings and being open to other ways of thinking, other ways of living and other faiths and beliefs. It's about coming face to face with the ephemeral nature of human life. It's about asking stupid questions like "What is the meaning of life?"

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