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Thoughts About "Thinking" and "Working" in Education: Natural Ability or Nurtured Skills?

© Beverley Paine

I'm starting to believe that 'nature' has far more to do with how we are than 'nurture'... I haven't done any research or study on the subject as that's not my learning style - I tend to think and work things out for myself and then seek confirmation from others that I'm on the right track. Interestingly enough, Thomas (youngest, 19) learns in much the same way.

I think that if we'd stayed in England (emigrated at the age of 4) and if I'd known my relatives I probably would have worked out if the above theory is true or not... Being totally isolated from my genetic family it's hard to see or find out which traits and interests run in the family, and which are encouraged purely by lifestyle, circumstance and opportunity.

Once upon a time I believed that learning to think was important - as in obtaining a general and liberal education. However, I now believe this is the quickest way to deaden a person's ability to think. It's a bit of an insult to tell anyone that they need to learn to think: thinking is something that we naturally do. Using our intelligence to create or problem solve - these are skills that can be built on and enhanced. From birth we've been brainwashed by well-meaning folk (a nice way of saying 'patronising') that we need to learn to think, thus we come to the conclusion very early on in life that we aren't very good at thinking, if we know how to do it all, that's it's a difficult task that must be learned carefully, and that there's a good chance we won't make the grade. It's actually much better if we rely on people that already have, the so-called 'experts'. We find these experts in great abundance as we grow up... The ones I distrust the most are the ones that tell us that we need to learn to think...

Okay. So I'm not keen on the learning to think idea. But what about learning how to work? Same story here. Look at any baby: is he or she not working hard to grow? To learn how to do many things? To conform to social custom and expectation? Is not her or his day packed with this kind of work? Look at a small child. She looks like she's playing, or even day dreaming. But we all know that she's trying to make sense of the world around her, imitating the 'work' of adults, practising so that she too can complete meaningful tasks as she grows. We all day dream - the genesis of brilliant creative ideas, problem solving, reflecting on emotional and moral issues, and so on.

From infancy we think and we work. It's all we really do. It's how we're made. That's what life is about. The 'how' of thinking and working is a reflection of our natures together with the cumulative effect of experiences. I suspect that how we learn from our experiences is coloured by our innate nature. Which is why I'm beginning to think that nature is more dominant in the nature/nurture debate.

Some of us like to 'think' more than 'work'. I'm an ideas person and I like to sit around dreaming up work for others. It's what I'm good at. But I'm good at working too, and what's more, I see my 'thinking' as 'working'.

I suspect that extensive knowledge has much less to do than the way in which we are educated, and more to do with an innate thirst for knowledge and understanding, which will lead us to quest after education in the first place. Not all people are born with this thirst. I suspect that small children with this need are probably known for their inquisitiveness and/or attentiveness as small children...

The way I see it, what many people call their ability to 'think' - especially in respect to common sense and common knowledge - is probably actually more accurately termed the ability to 'reflect': this is something I find undeveloped in many people. It's not surprising. Evaluating - a closely related concept - is something we are not really encouraged to develop as children. We are taught to rely on experts. We're not encouraged to test our own theories of life, the universe and everything. That would make schools just about redundant!

The more schools try to get close to a curriculum that encourages children to reflect, evaluate, and test their theories, the harder it is to determine if education, en masse, is effective. Societal need to measure the educational progress of children dumbs down the whole school system. Progressive curricula are replaced by 'back to basics' teaching methods. For some reason, it's not possible to do both at once... in a school setting, anyway. It's dead easy if children are allowed to learn in a natural environment such as the home, surrounded by a community with it's immensely rich array of working folk, all of them thinking and doing everyday!

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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