How to think vs. What to think


Yoda is right!  Sometimes we must unlearn what we have learned.

  • After four years of prep-school, I had been taught ‘how’ to think.
  • After four years of college, I had been taught ‘what’ to think.
  • In prep-school, I was taught how to engage reality and seek truth.
  • In college, I was taught how to reject reality and redefine truth.

After I left college, I had a problem. What I had learned in college did not correspond with reality and the world as I experienced it. In my mid-20s, I had to unlearn what I had learned in college. I had to rediscover what I had learned in prep-school. I had to go back and learn ‘how’ to think again.

I had three teachers who had huge impacts on my life. All of them took the long road of teaching. This is the road of teaching a student ‘how’ to think. One taught me how to process historical facts and piece together the puzzle of historical events as they really were. Another taught me how to read between the lines to capture the author’s intent. The last taught me how to bring truth, ethics and history to bear in the human process of dying.

All stretched my mind instead of changing my mind. If my mind was changed, it was because I was forced to wrestle with the truth, reality and fight my personal preferences. They basically said;

“Here are the facts, explore and wrestle with them. I’m not here to tell you what to think. I’m here to teach you how to think!”

Currently, most educators teach students ‘what’ to think. This is a very passive process of transferring information where the student is rewarded for regurgitating the information back to the teacher. There is nothing wrong with memorizing facts such as historical events, math tables, formulas, definitions, etc. This is a necessary discipline and foundational.

However, there has been a dramatic shift in teaching methods in the last 60 years.

Today, when we peek into the classroom, this is what we see:

  • Facts and truth are now open for interpretation by the individual.
  • Theories and opinions (preferences) are not open for interpretation by the individual.

Facts vs. Personal Preference
Therefore, we have extremely well-educated children who reject reality and truth based on personal preference. Its like saying, ‘I don’t like the fact that I was born in Fort Worth. So, I’ll reject that fact.’ I’d prefer that there was no crime in my neighborhood. That does not change the reality that there is crime in my neighborhood and locking my doors is a good idea. Preferences don’t change reality.  Whether or not you ‘believe’ something is true does not change reality.

So, when a young adult emerges from a university environment where they have been taught what to think, they must contend with a reality that does not correspond with what they were taught. Many reject truth and reality, embracing an idealized unreality that has been constructed in their minds by teachers telling them ‘what’ to think. They end up living in a false reality that does not correspond with the world as it really is.

It’s a problem, the out-workings of which can be observed in almost every aspect of our lives. At the center of all of the confusion and turmoil in politics, society and culture are highly educated people who have never been taught ‘how’ to think.

“Remember, reality gets to speak last and when it does, it has the final word.”

Perhaps it is time to unlearn what we have learned and train ourselves ‘how’ to think.

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