Don’t Teach Thinking Skills



Everywhere you turn there are
intelligent people thinking in crooked, deluded, unreasonable ways. Harvard-educated and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, Benghazi conspiracy theorists and global warming deniers, to name a few, are thinking
at the higher-levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (maybe with more analysis than synthesis). Like my favorite lyric in a song whose name I have long forgotten says, “thinking ain’t doing me no good, momma!”

Clearly intelligence and thinking skills are not always on the same track as reasoning. Smart people can hold completely unreasonable positions. Thinking rests on very shaky cognitive ground. Thoughts are mostly fictional and habitual, heavily influenced by our subconscious minds. Thinking is a way of imagining, intertwined with fantasies and stories about the past and future. Memory is at best a crude version of experience. Attention is fragile and, as any magician will tell you, easily manipulated. The whole thinking process, as most non-Western religions will tell you, is a fragile distortion of reality.

Children are prone to imaginative, creative reasoning that doesn’t conform to empirical experience. There are plenty of hilarious videos on YouTube of kids employing very reasoned but non-sensible logic. The foundation for reasoning starts long before a child acquires language and verbal thinking skills. But this natural, often incessant, process takes years to develop. Clearly thinking and reasoning are baked into children’s DNA just like language.

A single attempt at meditating, yoga or mindfulness quickly exposes our thinking as a swamp of snap judgments, wandering thoughts, random memories and repetitive notions. One of my favorite books is David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart, which exposes the scores of ways the thinking constantly runs off track. Just perusing the Web involves confirmation biases and motivated reasoning. Kids are prone to the same type of thinking biases, shortcuts and outright delusions that cloud adult thinking…but more so as they lack experiences, knowledge and strategies that tend to temper adult thinking.

We may teach thinking skills hoping that cold hard rational thinking will constrain our wandering emotional minds. But this is a silly, outdated idea as 99% of our thinking is grounded in subconscious processes outside of rational control. As the brilliant neuropsychologist Antonio Damasio points out thinking is really a way of conceptualizing feelings, body states and is at best an imaginative process. Thought is at the service of emotions, not the other way around.
book is a short lesson on thinking biases that lend themselves to oral and written conversations about thinking. Behavioral issues, recess fights and cafeteria melodramas should wane but use these situations to explore the roots of kids’ biases.

The other curriculum for straightening out thinking skills is cognitive behavioral therapy. The twelve types of cognitive distortions (which all have emotional roots) can be explored directly, as a behavioral development program or through literature.

What child doesn’t need to understand that he is making a mountain out of a mole hill when his friend tells him he that he looks funny? What student wouldn’t benefit from understanding that having a bad hair day isn’t catastrophic? How often do your students engage in black or white thinking or take things too personally? Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed discusses teaching CBT in schools.

What child (or adult) wouldn’t benefit from this type of instruction! Wouldn’t this be more relevant and beneficial to a child’s cognitive and
emotional growth than trying to teach Bloom’s taxonomy?


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