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Thinking and the Curriculum

Philosophy of Education: What is thinking, and how might different ways of conceiving it influence how we teach? This lecture looks at three perspectives on thinking and the curriculum: rationalism, functionalism and existentialism.

Rupert Higham

on 28 February 2017

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Transcript of Thinking and the Curriculum

Thinking and
the Curriculum

Rupert Higham
28th Feb 2017

Thinking Skills
Descartes: reason starts with 'I' - we are 'thinking things'; from here we can deduce and induce knowledge of the world

Kant: the individual must learn to attain 'rational autonomy' - the benchmark of reason that enables us to establish and operate on the basis of principles. This an intellectual and moral position

Bonnett's question:
“Are there fundamentally different ways of thinking which we employ to organize and make sense of our experience? And if there are, does it follow that it should be a central purpose of the curriculum to initiate children into each of them?” (1994:25)
Humans: 'thinking things'
“He who will not reason, is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.”
Sir William Drummond (1585-1649)
Sartre wrote that freedom, or agency, is in our essential nature - and that we spend much of our time trying to deny this or distract ourselves from acknowledging this truth and its implications
We spend much of our time acting parts, like a 'waiter' in a cafe pretending to actually be a waiter, doing habitual things
Or, we claim that we don't have control or freedom, lapsing instead into conformity and stereotype. This is 'bad faith'
Freedom begins in recognising that we always have choices, even in the face of death -it's up to us to take responsibility for making authentic choices that reflect who we really are
Shaped by the background of war and the horrors of fascism; we must grasp the freedom to reshape society ourselves

Bonnett, M. (1994). Children's Thinking. London: Cassell.
Burden, R. (1998). Thinking Skills Programmes. In R. Burden & M. Williams (Eds.),Thinking through the Curriculum. London: Routledge.
Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and Education. New York: The Free Press.
Holt, J. (1964). How Children Fail. New York: Delta.
Lipman, M. (2003). Thinking in Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sartre, J.-P., & Barnes, H. (1956). Being and Nothingness: An essay in phenomenological ontology. New York: Philosophical Library.
Being and Nothingness (1943)
Increasing need for a flexible work-force capable of being retrained, perhaps repeatedly;
Production tasks that increasingly require the application of intelligent judgement to technological tasks and systems rather than dexterity in manual skills;
Need for workers to comprehend, interpret and communicate, not between discrete processes but as participants within often intricate human and machine systems;
Emergence of enterprise skills in societies where possibilities seem limitless, but in which increasingly the prevailing culture seldom provides clear references for good practice;
Increasingly complex demands of good citizenship, where inter-subjective truth becomes less easy to identify.

This is a 'functionalist' view, basing education on the perceived needs of society rather than on any intrinsic intellectual or psychological model
Children’s understanding equates with their demonstrated ability to follow a rule
Thought can thus be understood as a process of learning, applying, relating and refining shared rules
Fields of activity structure sets of rules together, and they must be learned, applied, and where appropriate, challenged

This means that from a rationalist perspective:
“the central task of a teacher must be… to help children to acquire an increasingly refined system of categories for classifying things…. And the shared public rules and standards involved in doing this.” (Bonnett 1994, p.36)
The case for thinking skills: Burden's (1998) summary

The basic operations involved when we think, e.g. observing, relating in space/time, suing numbers, measuring, classifying, communicating, predicting and inferring
Domain-specific (declarative) knowledge
Knowledge of ‘normative principles of reasoning’ such as logic, probability and causation
Higher-order thinking strategies that can govern our approach to a topic as a whole
Metacognitive knowledge about our own thinking processes: self-monitoring and evaluating
Attitudinal and dispositional aspects of thinking, e.g. open-mindedness, restraint in concluding
Beliefs about the nature of knowledge and thinking, and their impact on us, e.g. ‘knowledge is fixed’; ‘I’m not intelligent’.
Adapted from Burden 1998, p.6
How do these differ from Hirst's 7 types of thinking earlier?
Knowledge as truth
knowledge as useful
knowing as acting

knowledge of persons

Wrongness is often the application of the wrong kind of justification / evidence to a type of activity: e.g. “plants grow towards the light because Mrs Jones says so.” (Bonnett, 1994,p.60)
Education should thus focus on developing these 7 forms
Knowledge of them would be critical to any valid criticism of them
There are no general thinking or creative capacities outside these
P.W. Hirst's 7 types of thinking
This classification presumes that all knowledge is propositional (about truth-claims) and objective; is this the case of aesthetics, for example?
Isn't there also extensive crossover between types of thinking - and need that be a problem?
What is the nature of the objective knowledge that rationalism refers to, how do we access it, and does it change?
This is all mental. Don't we also think with our bodies? Imagine trying to unlock a lock with a whole set of keys in the dark, or, as Dewey (1966) describes, gauging whether you can jump over a ditch as you approach it
Language games
This is an qualification model of education: you need to learn the rules before you can be accepted
Rules are subjectively applied: categories are chosen through judgement of relevance to context. Why else do we think about feeding the dog rather than feeding the quadruped?

“… the meaning and value of the things under consideration depend on two things: first, the categories in which they are placed; second – and this is very important – the purposes or motives that underlie our categorizing activity…. Thus what a child sees as a tatty toy an antiquarian may see as a treasure (and vice versa!). In this way our perception of things is never ‘neutral’. (Bonnett, 1994, p.36)
Oakeshott acknowledged the subjective nature of thought by talking about 'intelligibles', which refers to the meaning of objects and ideas in shared life
Culture hands down the 'shared procedures' of our society; schools must pass it on as part of an 'ongoing conversation'
In this they must focus on 'high culture', insulating children from the damage of the prosaic, vulgar and everyday
Extensive familiarity with this culture is necessary in order to contribute to it in any way
This reduces cultural conversation to a matter of taste within strict cultural boundaries.
Who gets to decide what counts as 'high culture'?
You have to qualify to be a member - you're not born one
'The best that has been thought and said'
Thinking consists in our organizing experience by defining its different aspects in terms of systems of categories;
We do this by judging the ways in which these aspects meet the standards, i.e. rules, which determine what counts as a member of a certain category;
These categories form complex webs and theories, and the meaning and value of the different aspects of experience that we articulate by means of them is determined by the place they are allocated in the web;
They give structure to living traditions of thought and awareness which form our ‘civilized inheritance’ and constitute what it is to be human in the full sense;
These webs and the procedures that give rise to them and are used to validate them, operate in a way analogous to games: they are governed by rules which are in principle public, and in fact largely shared within a community;
It is this public and shared feature of the rules which gives objectivity to the enterprises which they govern, and makes communication possible;
Each of the distinctive games that it is possible to distinguish constitutes of the forms that rationality can take. (p.54)
Bonnett's composite summary of rationalist thinking
What knowledge do we need to think?
What makes us think?
How do we teach thinking?
... and his main critique
“… a person thinks from out of the particular situations in which they find themselves, and this means that integral to a person’s thought are the emotions, attitudes, dispositions and motives that constitute the way they experience these situations… thinking is a product of living, and not something that goes on alongside it on some ‘pure’ dimension untainted by an individuals’ subjective concerns.” (97)

Thinking is an affective process; it is intimately connected to our lives and context as well as to rules and objective facts
Rationalism doesn't account for the 'weight' of thought - how important something seems to us - which is key to understanding why we think and what we think about
Thinking isn't value-neutral: by teaching to think, we mean teaching to think well. But which values rule our choices around what 'thinking well' means?

The questions we ask inform the stance we take:
Nickerson's 7 important aspects of the thinking process
Education is the outcome of participation in a teacher-guided community of inquiry, among whose goals are the achievement of understanding and good judgement
Students are stirred to think about the world when our knowledge of it is revealed to them to be ambiguous, equivocal, and mysterious
The disciplines in which inquiry occurs are assumed to be neither nonoverlapping nor exhaustive; hence their relationships to their subject matters are quite problematic
The teacher’s stance is fallibilistic (ready to concede error) rather than authoritative
Students are expected to be thoughtful and reflective, and become reasonable and judicious
The focus of the education process is not on information acquisition but grasping the relationships within and among subject matters under investigation
Lipman: assumptions of the reflective paradigm of teaching
Lipman argues that rationality + judgement = "reasonableness'' reasonable people in a reasonable society should be our goal
Curiosity about others, and the challenge to thinking this represents is essential to being reasonable
Why do schoolchildren lose their curiosity? Because schools, unlike family life, are too predictable, routine and explicit
Following Dewey, Lipman argues that children need extended chains of inquiry, where the consequences of thoughts and actions are referred, and which lead to new problems to investigate

The natural mysteriousness of the home and family environment is replaced by a stable, structured environment in which all is regular and explicit. Children gradually discover that such an environment is seldom an invigorating or challenging one. Indeed, it drains them of the capital fund of initiative and inventiveness and thoughtfulness that they brought with them to school. (Lipman 2003, p.13)
Lipman: assumptions of the reflective paradigm of teaching
Thinking isn't a completely abstract process - we need content to think with and about
The evidence for the success of thinking skills programmes is 'mixed at best' (Burden 1998) - although has grown since
Some level of knowledge of the world is required to operate in it in an informed way; thinking skills alone are not enough
Critiques of thinking skills
Different thinking skills programmes
De Bono's 'Thinking Systems': focus on developing lateral thinking, which is transferrable and prompted by taking different perspectives
Lipman's 'Philosophy for Children':(P4C) based discursive inquiry around fundamental issues
'Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment': a staged programme of thinking skills based on a cognitive developmental model
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law - Aleister Crowley
'Hearsay' is taking on and passing off that which we take from others without questioning its meaning for us ourselves
In this way thinking is tranquillized, for such everyday understanding is never thrown into genuine puzzlement: it is all-knowing in the sense that it always has some ready-made answer up its sleeve to cover all possibilities.
(Bonnett 1994, p.102)
John Holt and others have pointed out the pressure students are under to absorb teachers’ ‘hearsay’, and more often respond with ‘counter-hearsay’ than with genuine arguments (i.e. stereotypes of rebellion rather than authentic rebellion)
Authenticity is therefore limited by traditional curricula and conceptions of rational subject areas, and by authority and discipline within the school aimed at promoting conformity
Bonnett: 'child-centred learning' as letting children do what they please is a misconception as understood by existentialism.
Children would thus mimic others' behaviour = 'hearsay'
Indeed, children often resist opportunities for self-expression in favour of conformity
Self-expression must be 'attained'; it doesn't happen naturally
Rigour in thinking and understanding of one's position in the world is required if one is to genuinely take responsibility for one's actions
The teacher must there be active, and must undertake a programme of 'empathetic challenging' of students to help them take responsibility for their actions and express themselves
Real 'Child-centredness'
Bonnett's approach is 'education through living' rather than 'education for living', emphasising its affective nature
Subject-based learning must include an emphasis on allowing it to have 'personal weight' with students
Bonnett here is heavily influenced by John Dewey's work, and the philosophy of pragmatism - which refuses to separate the means of education from the ends
However, he critiques Dewey's focus on 'scientific inquiry' as the model for thinking as inadequate
Bonnett talks about the additional need for wonder, dwelling in mystery and contemplation of what is; not everything should be seen as a problem that needs solving (1994, p.178)
Real 'Child-centredness' continued...
Implicit in Bonnett and the existentialists' arguments is that we need a level of understanding and intellectual skill in order to mount an 'original' critique of society and its practices. Isn't a traditional education required to enable this? Isn't that the norm in, say, academia?
How can one systematically educate for uniqueness - especially when this implies activity in the world rather than just forms of receptivity and response in the classroom?
Are children ready, even incrementally, for the types of freedom and responsibility Sartre advocates?
Are the implications for societal change required to operate from this educational principle so profound that they challenge the notion of education itself?
Critiques of existentialist approaches
The problem of thinking
Students, teachers and knowledge
Experience is both trying and passive undergoing:
"We do something to the thing and then it does something to us in return... the measure of the value of an experience lies in the perception of relationships and continuities"

When the change made by action is reflected back into a change made in us, the mere flux is loaded with significance (139).... Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction – discovery of the connection of things (140).

‘Thinking... is the intentional endeavour to discover specific connections between something which we do and the consequences which result, so that the two become continuous’ (145).... Thinking is thus equivalent to an explicit rendering of the intelligent element in our experience (146). It makes it possible to act with an end in view.

While all thinking results in knowledge, ultimately the value of knowledge is subordinate to its use in thinking. For we live not in a settled and finished world, but in one which is going on, and where our main task is prospective... (151)

Information severed from thoughtful action is dead, a mind-crushing load.(153)
Education for thinking: a democratic practice
Traditionalist model
Constructivist model
Emancipatory model
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