What should education accomplish?

learning how to think and know

Why do we send children to school? What do we hope the hours, months, and years children spend at school will accomplish? Much of the elementary and high school curriculum has remained essentially unchanged for decades. But increasingly questions are being raised about its relevance to the rapidly changing world of work (see Anderson et al., 2000; Reich, 2000). How does time spent in school equip children for the future years they will spend outside of school?

Increased concern is also being heard that the product of education be UNDERSTANDING (Gardner, 1999), not rote performance of knowledge quickly forgotten. Too often, children at best memorize superficial bits of information, with little understanding of the ideas underlying them. Why is this information worth having? What's important about it? Students rarely have answers to these questions or expect that they should have answers.

A response to these concerns now endorsed by most educators, as well as students and parents, is 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 whatever new knowledge and skills they may need. The Education for Thinking project described here (and forthcoming in book form) adopts this perspective. We hold, however, that in order for education for thinking to become a meaningful, tangible, and practical educational goal, we need to understand much more about just what it means. What exactly are the thinking skills we want children to master and how do these skills develop?

In psychological terms, the overarching education-for-thinking goal can be characterized as developing students' meta-level awareness and management of their intellectual processes. Understanding knowing processes (Part II) provides an essential foundation for valuing knowing (Part III) -- for believing that it is worthwhile to develop and apply knowing skills. The skills can be described under the headings of inquiry (Part IV), analysis (Part V), inference and claim (Part VI), and argument (Part VII). Connections between skills, meta-level regulation, and intellectual values are portrayed in the diagram KNOWING (diagram). Implications for practice follow (Part VIII).

Sources for further reading:

Kuhn, D. (1999). A developmental model of critical thinking. Educational Researcher, 28, 16-25.

Kuhn, D. (2000). Metacognitive development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 178-181.