A better world is only possible if we teach our children how to think
“I know that there is only one freedom: the freedom of thought”, said the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Educating a child is a path of light and some shadows, and although most of us try to do it in the best possible way, relying also on teachers, we have to be very aware of the importance of educating in values and preaching by example, because in our hands lies the future generation of men and women of our society.
Thinkers, writers, politicians and educators of all times have always had the importance of childhood and the power of critical thinking at the forefront of their minds. It helps both students and the professionals they will one day become; to discern between what is true and what is false, what is important and what is superficial. It is a critical ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. It is the ability to think logically and rationally, establishing relationships between ideas, questioning solutions to problems and approaching them from different perspectives. “Critical thinking – John Baldoni, leadership keynote speaker – is the ability to evaluate options, weigh aberrations and make unforced decisions”.
Teaching children to think for themselves
Children are pure curiosity and wonder and, as educators, family members, etc., we would do well to help them cultivate these faculties. This is precisely what Jordi Nomen proposes in his book El niño filósofo. How to teach children to think for themselves, in which he tries to point out the benefits of philosophical education in the intellectual, personal and social development of children. Nomen is a strong advocate of the role of the humanities in children’s education and understands philosophy as a ‘basic element of citizenship’ that should be present in all schools: because of the importance of knowing how thinking develops, because it helps to question and go a step further to analyse. Among its benefits, he stresses that philosophy develops in children ‘critical, creative and careful thinking’. For Jordi Nomen, the latter type of thinking is especially important to take into account the impact of our actions on others. “We must move from ‘I’ to ‘we’ to seek the common good and create something together. That is the meaning of education,” says the philosopher.
For this, and other reasons, one of our aims at Coruña British International School is to work to ensure that our students are polite, respectful and the best representatives of the school, of Globeducate group and themselves, thus reinforcing our sense of community. Our school’s mission is to prepare each of our students to become global citizens who can change the world, through excellence in British education.
Keys to developing critical thinking:
- Teach the importance of humility
José Carlos Ruiz explains that in order to transmit humility to our children, everything begins by respecting and encouraging a simple way of thinking: anyone around us can contribute, teach or show us something, without underestimating opinions or culture… In other words, it is not that we do not know less, but we learn from others and they can contribute a lot. In this way we encourage active listening or the art of being a good conversationalist.
- Attention is a loan
The teacher warns us about the excessive use of phrases such as “Lend me your attention” that we use so often to demand our children’s eyes and ears. We do it indistinctly to get their attention in the face of danger, as a command, out of affection or even to scold. We are transmitting to them that their attention, the only way to learn, “is not worth much” because what we return to them is not always enriching, which leads to a decrease in their intensity of attention. The seriousness of this lies in the fact that in order to learn it is necessary to pay attention, and by slowing down their intensity of attention we run the risk that they will stop listening to us. How can we avoid this? Calm down! Let’s encourage open conversation, for example, after a talk, let’s end with an open question so that they leave with something enriching to think about, to abstract, even to ramble on about the proposed challenge.
- The importance of time
In order for children to develop what José Carlos Ruiz calls protopensamiento, time is needed. Protopensamiento, according to the author of books such as El arte de pensar, is made up of three elements: astonishment, curiosity and questioning. In this sense, “we must direct wonder to curiosity, and from curiosity we must go on to questioning”. Let’s encourage our children to ask themselves questions, to be amazed by everyday things, let’s take the opportunity to stop over-stimulation so that we can open the door to curiosity and give way to critical analysis of reality. It prevents them from losing their inner child as they grow up, increasing their curiosity: providing them with challenges, stimuli, projects to initiate, subjects to investigate and in which they learn and have fun at the same time.
- Entertain vs. educate
This is very important. In his presentation, José Carlos Ruiz gave the example of life in Roman times where “you only need to give them bread and circuses” to keep people happy, i.e. food and entertainment. Far from turning our homes into a circus, this example serves to alert us that children need more than entertainment to be educated: “to foster critical thinking you need perseverance and determination”, and to live coherently following the values we believe in, giving a verifiable example of those values on a daily basis.
- Living as we think
In the words of José Carlos Ruiz himself, in order to live as we think, “first we have to think and then live. And I think we are doing the opposite when we educate our children, we are living and then thinking”. That is why he insists that “we must have a medium to long-term educational project. Learning to think well implies that your children see that you have, first, values and a scale of perception of reality that they know. And secondly, that you fulfil them on a day-to-day basis by setting an example”.
At Coruña British International School we pursue the personal growth of our students, preparing them to face challenges and handle failure with tenacity and resilience. We inspire our students to identify and develop their unique talents and contribute to a more just and sustainable world. We strive to help them understand that success can take many forms. We help our students to discover what it means to them, to achieve the best version of themselves, and to enjoy this process of searching as the basis for a fulfilling life.
- Every human being has their own thoughts; they are not our shadow.
A very common mistake in education is to pass on to our children what we have done well in order to try to make them follow in our footsteps. According to the philosopher, an expert in critical thinking, “we cannot expect all children to think the same way or for our children to always have the same answers to the same problem. We have to start changing this way of understanding life”. Consequently, this modus operandi will only lead them not to question themselves, to have things chewed up and to function like machines without thinking or reflecting.
- Educate their eyes
“We are letting them create a virtual image without educating their gaze”, through social networks. “They are creating a virtual avatar, an image of themselves that they gradually fall in love with if they see external reinforcement in the form of likes. But if we get them to be able to discern what is real from what is virtual, we solve a large part of their virtual self-esteem,” explains José Carlos Ruiz. That is why it is advisable to be by our children’s side when they start to come into contact with social networks where “they don’t share moments, but show them off”. By going hand in hand, we can help them to differentiate between what is real and what is virtual.
Finally, a phrase to reflect on from Albert Einstein: “The value of an education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think”.