Educating effective thinkers

are unexamined beliefs worth having?

In I, we noted the widespread endorsement of the view that the most important mission of schools should be to teach children how to use their minds -- how to think and learn -- so that as adults they will be able and disposed to acquire the new knowledge and skills they need. The most recent report (Jackson & Davis, 2000) from the middle-school reform effort offers just one of many examples of such endorsement, although one that is notably clear and explicit.

A major theme of the EDUCATION FOR THINKING project that has been introduced here is that intellectual skills, while fundamental and in need of better definition, are only one piece of a broader structure that needs to develop. At least as important as the skills themselves are meta-level processes -- metastrategic operations that allow students to monitor and manage their knowledge acquisition skills, and metacognitive operations that enable students to be aware of and able to justify what they claim to know. Also fundamental are more general epistemological understanding (II) of what it is to know something and the values (III) associated with that understanding (KNOWING diagram). Unless students value knowing, they are unlikely to expend the effort that engaging in it requires. Above all, then, the goal of education for thinking should be to instill in students a set of intellectual values: specifically, that there are things worth finding out and knowing (IV), that analysis is worthwhile (V), that there is a point to arguing (VII), and, as a consequence of these values, the value that unexamined beliefs (VI) are not worth having.

Meta-level processes both direct and are enhanced by the exercise of skills. Educating for thinking should thus proceed simultaneously along two fronts. Opportunities should be plentiful for skills of inquiry, analysis, inference, and argument to undergo frequent and regular exercise, enabling these skills to be practiced, elaborated and extended, consolidated, and perfected. At the same time, meta-level awareness and understanding of skills should be promoted by helping students to reflect on what and how they know and what they are doing as they acquire new knowledge. The two endeavors reinforce one another: Understanding informs practice and practice enhances understanding.

Included here are two examples of education for thinking curriculum activities that reflect this approach. One is an inquiry activity. The other is an argument activity.