I subscribe to Guy Claxtons’ sentiments about intuition, creativity and the ‘intelligent unconscious’, being something of a ‘tortoise mind’.

 So my response to a stimulating trail in the blogosphere on the skills needed for learning in the 21st century set me thinking; though not quickly enough to post anywhere but here.

Metacognition, critical thinking and developing conceptual and collaborative language have always been important but never more so than now.

I favour a philosophical enquiry approach to teaching critical skills. This is partly because this gives us 2 crucial skills for the price of one:  education in deep thinking within a community of enquiry wherein learners develop the ability to construct dialogue and acknowledge another’s perspective.

Effective learning is not just the manipulation of information so that it is integrated into an existing knowledge base, but also involves directing one’s attention to what has been assimilated, understanding the relationship between the new information and what is already known, understanding the processes which facilitated this, and being aware when something new has actually been learned. (Fisher)

Intellectual development results from people generating and listening to reasoning, making distinctions, connections and valid inferences. Good thinkers hypothesise, generalise, give examples, uncover assumptions, ask questions and infer consequences. As they become more expert, members of the community begin together to develop critical skills: to recognize logical fallacies, to be aware of inconsistencies and irrelevancies and to clarify concepts, seek clarification, voice implications and perceive relationships.

Interpersonal skills such as active listening, supporting others by building on their thoughts and submitting these to critical discussion are intrinsic to the process of philosophical enquiry. Taking another’s ideas seriously by responding and encouragement to expand, feeling responsible for keeping the discussion on track and having the courage and ability to hold tentative views helps develop the disposition necessary for emotional intelligence to improve. The ability to give good reasons and to change your mind is valued over proficiency in providing quick solutions.

 Thinking philosophically is also central to moral education. A fully participative democratic society requires an autonomous citizenry that can think, judge and act for themselves. By definition, the education of a morally autonomous person requires the teaching of critical thinking. There can be no democratic liberty if citizens lack the skills to differentiate lies from truth. Democracy depends on shared understanding and the discriminating use of language. (Fisher)

 Isn’t it our job – as educators, parents, members of a free(ish) society – to help children learn how to argue (as opposed to quarrel), and how to develop some immunity to, some intolerance of, the persuasive, pejorative techniques of newspapers and politicians, to see weaknesses of argument, hypocrisy and contradictions which are endemic features of the moral and political persuaders? 

The central moment in concept formation, and its generative cause, is a specific use of words as functional tools. (Vygotsky) and for children to become skilled participants in society they need guidance from a more expert thinker who can support as well as proved opportunities for cognitive conflict in a safe environment: guided reinvention of knowledge. It is through conversations with more experienced, reflective and informed talkers that young people will find their own meanings.

And isn’t that what education is for?