Teaching Your Students to Think

Dear Teacher,
            You want your students to think for themselves. Try this:

Student actionRequired thinkingExample
Find a question in the world.Engages observation and pattern recognition“Why are so many cooks and bus-people in Minneapolis Latino?”[1]
Consider why it needs an answer?Engages contextualizing[2]“To determine if Minneapolis restaurant hiring practices are discriminatory”
Refine the question.Requires research skills and actions[3]“What is the usual ethnic makeup of Minneapolis restaurant staffs?”
Formalize the question.
(the research question)
Engages observation and pattern recognition. Engages contextualizing and analysis[4]“What are the characteristics of jobs dominantly held by each ethnic group in a variety of Minneapolis Restaurants?”
Answer the “Why ask” question.
(the thesis of the report)
Engages analysis and evaluation[5]“Depending on how one defines discrimination, one may or may not see the ethnic imbalance in Minneapolis restaurant jobs as discriminatory.”
Defining all terms and using the evidence collected, state and explain a “thesis.”Engages composition skillsCarefully and clearly explain the above statement, i.e., write a research report

The examples given in this chart work well with upper class (juniors and seniors) high school students and above, where I have used them, but the process can be adapted to earlier grades. I have used something along these lines with students in what was then junior high school (7 and 8). I can fairly easily imagine it being adapted to younger students, but it would need major reform to be used with students who had only begin using abstract thinking – probably about 8 or 9 years of age. It is the thinking process that is the focus, not the inputs or outputs, which we are usually expected to score as a measure of the students’ learning. Using pre-writing work, we can assess the amount and depth of the thinking, and design activities to strengthen shortcomings.

If one internalizes thoughtful processes in early and frequent use, one may find good thinking becomes automatic. For that reason, it is helpful to begin building students’ thinking-framework early. Thinking may seem threatening to some in a conformist world, but it is necessary, if uncomfortable, to innovation, and that generates forward movement in all fields, as it has in the technical fields. Economic, social, governance, even math and science fields can all benefit from the ideas of those who see, question and postulate change. We must teach the whole person for life in the whole world.


[1] This is by far the hardest part. One must always be observing what is going on around them, noticing and recognizing patterns. In this table, for instance, a pattern is defined by the header row of terms. Look for some more patterns.

[2] Contexts may be wide ranging – economic, ethical, legal, success based, etc.

[3] This will require a range of question situations, in this case restaurants, possibly involving first hand visits, phone calls and letters. Cover different ranges of situations – location, economic, variety – such as cuisine, and other possibly impactful variations. There may be organizations that have already collected some or even all of the information you are seeking. Search the question on the Web.

[4] Keep accurate records of from whom, about what, where, and/or when information was found. These references should be cited in any writing that calls on any of this information. This may be the longest and most complex part of the process. Good research is work. It comes with asking a good research question, and then constantly asking yourself, “am I really getting answers to my research question?”

[5] Analysis is non-judgmental. Evaluation is the comparison of substantiated conclusions with some set of standards. Analysis must be included in a research report, but a value-based conclusion may be included or left clearly open-ended.

Follow-up footnote

It has come to my attention that there is more to the process that I have laid out here. Two areas, in particular, that are not detailed here are process assessment and research journaling have been noted and I would love to discuss them with anyone interested. I realize there are other things to apply here too, action research being but one of them. Action research is a teaching process that parallels this observation-relevance learning process.

I can be emailed at Jay@jaezz.org. For those looking to advance the process, we can talk about how to customize for specific foci. For those who find this process too overwhelming for their students, we can talk about how one might step into the process rather than taking it on whole right out of the box. And I would be more than interested in hearing your ideas to make this more adaptable and richer. My goal is to do something to staunch the bleeding of critical and creative thought from the American educational system.

The Shortness of Days

The luxuries and many of the essentials of our lives today will be paid for by our children and grandchildren, and by their children and their grandchildren. For them no birds will sing, no flowers will bloom, no kind winds will blow. For them will only be the dry moaning of a dying world.

This will be your legacy, your soul’s fate. Thinking only of yourself, your family, your possessions is a bargain with the Devil. Perhaps it is just the Cosmic Balance of all things. Even the best intensions of the gods may come to bad ends through the actions their wills have inspired.

Perhaps we are just tiny pawns in an infinitely vast game of galactic chess.
Humanity as an act of futility.

Profundity

Waking this morning, feeling my mortality,
Not just an awareness, but a presence,
An actual thing,
Like the walls and floor and ceiling of this room.
I, a portrait of myself, framed by my mortality.
I am a portrait of me, lying in my bed, doing
Nothing really,
Not waiting for anything,
Not expecting anything.
Nothing’s coming. Just
Lying in my bed,
A still life portrayed – Dormeuse.
Le dormeur mortel,
But not really asleep. Just
Lying in my bed.
There are the sounds of wind in the leaves,
And the spatter of a lingering rain.
A light breakfast today, I think,
For no other reason than to have
A reason to get up.

July 2022

Everything Means Nothing: A Ponder

Everything means nothing.
Reality is meaningless.
Everything is everything;
But just one thing.
Consciousness,
Which consists of nothing itself,
Gives meaning to all things.

When we are aware of a thing,
That thing exists.
It is not a separate part
Of Reality, however.
Things only exist because
We have brought them into
Our reality.
All things then are constructs
Created by consciousness.
We create all things
And endow them with purpose,
Or no purpose.
Purposeless things, however,
Tend to sink back into
The homogeny of the whole.
Purpose then
Or lack thereof
Serves the intent of the consciousness;
We think we can
Or actually can
Benefit from it.
Purpose implies that all the things
We have or could have brought into existence
Have intent,
And therefore
By extension,
Everything is intentional.

Do we have the snake or maybe reason
Devouring itself by the tail?

Unless one is truly a solipsist,
He or she, or she or he, or they runs into trouble
When one assumes
We have perceived Reality,
When we have actually created
Or perhaps only defined
Our own unique reality,
As has every other consciousness in the universe.

Being one god
Among six and a half billion gods
Is complicated.
Can everyone actually be wrong
About the real reality?

“Everyone!”

Now there’s something to ponder.


Reading Guido Morselli, Dissipatio H. G., and starting to sound a lot like him, but without the references to obscure philosophers. I must read more escapist literature, or Jane Austin to forestall this sort of mind wandering, lest I meet the Minotaur one day.

29 June 2022

Passing Laws to Punish Where No Crime Has Happened

Laws restricting people from access to opportunities their peers have based on chosen gender status, where there is no perceived harm or risk seems to contravene would seem to be discrimination for its own sake – dangerously close to outright hate. Contriving a rationale without evidence cannot justify such discrimination. Such laws enacted to deny rights and thereby inflict harm on person based on their self-expression would seem to be unconstitutional, and perhaps actual hate crimes themselves.

Here’s what ACLU says about this:

Your rights State and local laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression should protect transgender people’s right to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. We believe that laws that ban sex discrimination should also be interpreted by the courts to protect transgender people.

Know Your Rights | LGBTQ Rights | American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org)

Good Guys Finish Last

The Devil sings a beautiful song
But takes a terrible toll.
Still,
When value is measured in dollars,
I’ll cling to my worthless soul.

So, when I’m dead and moldering,
I’ll be just what I’ve left behind.
‘Cause
The grass grows as green on the graves of the poor
As it does on the graves of the rich.

We Are Only Human

War!?
Really!?
Again!?
We said, “No.”
We were reasonable.
So, what do you want?
No, not what you don’t want.
What!?
You want us never to do what you’re doing?
You don’t even want us to give it to you.
You want to take it from us painfully.
No, you’re doing what you’re doing because you can.
Your addiction to power makes you want to devour the World,
And the Planets,
And the Sun and Stars,
And when Nothing is left you can only devour yourself.

Booming, rumbling, crushing, crumbing…
War has come on thundering hooves.
The pounding canon fire grinds our hope.
The stench of burned flesh suffocates our spirit.
Our home is falling, smoking, screeching in pain.
Our neighbors are screaming, running, fleeing into the flames.
We can only huddle in dread and wait the end.
We are being eaten by a manic history.
The jaws of power are chewing us into dust.

What do you take when your children are being exploded?
Which way do you run when the roads are being exploded?
What have you become when everything you were is being exploded?
Why do those who have nothing to gain and every last thing to lose
Pay the penalty of powerlessness?
Must human kind simply be resigned to its own self-destruction?

We are only human,
A serpent devouring itself tail first,
Rolling through a history of eternal self-consumption.

Climate Restoration

It has been clear to most of us out here that our weathers have been erratic sometimes to the extreme. Many have passed this off as 50 or 100-year events. Such arguments may serve as a Band Aid for one event. Indeed, some of the events may have been just such events. However, tens, perhaps hundreds of different 50 and 100-year events in the past few years would seem to defy reason. Deniers however have been arguing unreasonably. Weighed against obscure and probably costly steps being called for to halt barely perceivable changes in the earth’s temperature, denial seems the only recourse. Feeling overwhelmed, many of us will withdraw to the battles we can realistically see, such as next year’s looming debt load or news of Chinese inroads into markets we had come to count on. This is the closest deniers are likely to get to reasoning out a response to the threat of Climate Change. Yet climate control advocates are using pretty complex, long-range reasoning to make their case of impending doom.
As Aristotle (Rhetoric) gloomily observed: logos demands the trained cognitive skill of understanding and weighing evidence; ethos challenges our egos to believe some know-it-all expert; but pathos fires our hearts to commitment and our hands to action. Using reasoning to bring the masses to action is an exercise in arrogance, while speaking from expertise may sway the uncommitted, but deniers will simply deny their lofty, authority. Pushing the right hot button, on the other hand, will spark the benighted to surge toward the light.
The downside of applied pathos is that negative emotions have already been triggered in the hardline hold-outs. For them, greatness has been defined as anything that was not what had been before: greatness as a negative. The strategy of appealing to the emotions was not wrong; it was effective, but its goal was malignant. What if current agencies appeal to a benign goal using the same emotions-based strategy?
I’m suggesting one simple alteration for the climate change activists’ program. Instead of declaring that climate change will doom us all, we could be endorsing climate restoration as a way to a better future. The goal is restoration, a hopeful word that also harkens back to an albeit romanticize way things were. The word “change” is threatening. We feel powerless under its uncertainty. The word “restoration” is promising. We feel hopeful in its confidence.
Agencies and job titles bearing terms, such as “Climate Restoration and Management” seem constructive, focused and orderly. We know that how we call things shapes how we feel about them, and how we feel about them determines how we respond to them when they call upon us. We cannot afford to forget how powerfully we have been influenced by words. Claiming that ‘actions speak louder than words’ may actually hide the power that some words, quietly repeated, had in leading to those very actions.
I’m ready to go. I won’t live to see much of our planet’s health restored, but I live every day hoping my grandson will not have to suffer from my inaction. Lead on into the light.

Here’s what I Meme

Memes are poor substitutes for rationale. Take “racist.” I in no way wish to endorse the word, but look how imprecise it is. If one looks on a person of a different race as inferior, is that racist? What if it’s a person of African descent so judging a Native American? What if it’s a Native American so judging an Italian American? One thing remains the same you might agree; it’s an unwarranted and negative assessment. Well, the “inferior” part is generally fairly negative, but inferior in what way? Biologically? In the broad, surviving-life sense? Then of course, the same inferiority would apply to a very old member of the same race, even the same family. Most physical ways of comparing could only apply to an individual, not a race or almost any whole group. Intellectually? Beside being just as limited as physical comparisons, intellect is too slippery to pin down. Just what are we measuring and on what scale and in what units?

Any aspect comparative “value” of a person we try to measure shackles us in two major ways. The first way is that we rarely have a unit of measure, and when we do, we can hardly be sure that such units apply equally to all. Living a long life sounds good, unless it’s spent in a prison, or is otherwise miserable. How could be compare such a life with the short, happy life of a well-loved, active child who dies quickly in an accident? Years are clear measures in time, but not in quality of life. Most often however a “value” has no dimension to measure. At best we only guess that what we are comparing is not “apples to oranges.” The second way we get tangled is that any “value” one might choose to measure is such a small part of the whole of a person. To even successfully evaluate any aspect, is like successfully measuring the durability of one strand of wool fiber in a whole skein of yearn. That’s a real problem.

The worst result of applying memes to someone as a response to a single event, or even a pattern of events is that that person is then painted with the “unwarranted and negative assessment” we agreed was in the meme. Is it no wonder that that person so besmirched might strike back? Then the initial event is unreconciled, the “racist” has probably put up barriers to the “meme-ing” outside influence, and the world is not in a better place. Not much movement there, but maybe a little backward sliding.

So if it does not good, why do people use memes? It probably goes back to the original sentence here: Memes are poor substitutes for rationale. A rationale requires thinking through, connecting dots, ordering points and expressing them articulately. Does stopping and thinking before speaking risks being spoken over? Perhaps. Can one calm down? Can we be fairly sure we’re being accurate and then going on clearly and sensibly? Stopping is probably the best first step, but we can only stop ourselves; others may have no patience with taking time or giving us time to think, to take in the situation and organize our thoughts. Can we just say, stop? Will we lose the moment? Is that so bad? Then if it is, can we come back to it later without the self-defeating pathos of memes?

If we hope to knit a sweater, we can keep throwing out the yarn when we encounter a bad strand. The bad strand is unpleasant, but it can be repositioned, reinforced or just removed. What’s important is the sweater.

Winter Comes

It’s night, and fall is upon us in earnest.
Last night, the winter galed through the yard
With a fury that rattled of crisis and desperation.

The blanketing leaves raked onto the gardens
Fled back to the lawn and then to the hedge.
Tucked in, the hedge now is bedded for winter.

Snow clinging wetly had urged leaves off
Once laden, powerline-threatening branches,
Now deceased arms, stretching out in despair.

Soon whispering flurries will enshroud it all.
Garden and hedge shall sleep beyond memory.
And the branches shall lose all awareness even of self.

%d bloggers like this: