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Questioning the assumption that "children must be taught how to think, not what to think"

by Beverley Paine

I saw a meme today on Facebook with a quote by Margaret Mead, "Children must be taught how to think; not what to think."

I guess that sentiment is a good starting point for most people. Not for me though, I get sad when I read it because it says that children MUST - a position which asserts one's will and judgement over others - be TAUGHT - assuming that learning only occurs when one imparts knowledge and skills to others - HOW TO THINK - assuming that unless one knows how to think one isn't able to think, which is simply ridiculous as we're all born thinking, so doesn't that automatically mean we know how to? 

And anyone assuming they can teach someone else WHAT TO THINK needs to rethink that assumption: marketing people know that the best way to make others think the way they want them too is not by teaching but by emotional manipulation and brainwashing. Like I said, it's a good starting place and I'm a long way down the track, been thinking about children thinking and learning for a long time now. Just wish more people would question well-meaning sentiments such as this and hopefully see how they help to keep the status-quo. 

I still know people though that are surprised by the notion that children can already think, and quite well, as babies... As well as people who are still really fixated on what and when to teach, rather than helping children get on with learning.

I think that there is a role for others to guide and mentor others and if asked, even teach.

What irks me is the assumptions that are made.

For example, I might assume that your child needs to be guided in a particular way for a reason that suits my values and purposes, that he's not thinking the way I need or want him to be thinking right now. My assumption might not put a lot emphasis on his thoughts on needing guidance... In my enthusiasm I might not be picking up on subtle signals he might be sending that my guidance is actually inappropriate and not wanted or needed right now. That's normal, happens all the time. Kids are amazingly and wonderfully forgiving.

I might also assume that my children need to be exposed to resources and activities that will help them develop greater self-awareness and to be able to communicate that more effectively to others (especially because it will save me from second-guessing or making assumptions about their needs, which is really basically my problem anyway, a responsibility I take on because I think I need to, probably don't, but I'm going to do it anyway).  

Children trust that we as parents will meet their needs. Trouble is, we have so much trouble recognising and identifying our own needs - life has become over-complex and over-thought. And I honestly think we confuse needs and wants. We need love and acceptance, acceptance for who we are, right here, right now, as we are. That's the starting place for any kind of guidance, mentoring, teaching.

I know that Margaret Mead actually meant that it is important to think beyond superficial, to look deeper, to question and challenge, to be able to present rational arguments, to test hypothesis, reflect, etc. It is what education has been reduced down to through a century of schooling that corrupts the interpretation of her words. Sadly there are too many people that interpret them literally - whole curricula are based on the sentiment that we need to teach children how to think. Children are still regarded as 'blank slates' upon which we can draw what we regard as valuable.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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Welcome to the World of Home Education and
Learning without School!

We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

The information on this website is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal or professional advice. This site merges and incorporates 'Homeschool Australia' and 'Unschool Australia'.

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