Social Education 57(3), 1993, pp. 131
1993 National Council for the Social Studies
Designing Our Futures by Choice
Lynden J. Leppard
The trouble with our time is that the future is not what it used to be.
To take a step into the future we need to shift our weight to the opposite foot.
-William Irwin Thompson
This article explores that shifting of weight Thompson refers to and some of the feet that are stepping with purpose into the future. The pathways to the future have a few travelers walking to a similar tune; this article tries to capture some of the notes in their tunes, emphasizing the relevance of these travelers to teaching and learning in classrooms.
The three travelers of interest are:
This group shares a "radical discontinuity" mind-set. Concepts in that mind-set include the following:
- a particular notion of critical and creative deliberation taught in a planned and deliberate way;
- the nature of workplaces and employer-employee relationships necessary for quality and profit; and
- the nature of public politics and the intellectual and social processes public politics requires for effectiveness.
Higher-order thinking is a priority of this group so I will call it the HOT group in this article.
- The economic starting point is the human skills base of each country with the capacity to develop ideas, products, and services capable of being exploited.
- The political starting points are the shared motivations of wanting to be powerful, in control, social, participatory, and collaborative.
- Tensions between and within individuals and groups are inevitable and constructive.
- Change is perceived as occurring in quantum leaps often with no historical base. (Cars were not an extension of the steam engine, nor television of cinema.)
- Little continuity exists in employment; constant change is the norm.
- Skepticism abounds about rejuvenation. The decline of existing industries and organizational systems is part of a process of maturation and decay.
- The primary aim is to identify and fill niches in the world market.
- Information technology is a transforming technology, radically transforming all it touches.
- Education is perceived as more important than training (because young people will enter a labor force that is radically changing).
- People can design the future; the use of technology can be deliberately decided.
- People want meaningful involvement in their work and their politics and they are highly capable.
This group shares significant characteristics and motivations and is generally opposed to another group made up of politics-as-usual, didactic, single-truth-as-content dominated classrooms, which define thinking as content recall and the rules of logic.
This group has a worldview and a way of understanding power and learning that might be described as technological somnambulist or technological determinist. Characteristics of their mind-set include the beliefs that:
A Problem: Some Definitions of Thinking Just Do Not Do the Job
- the future is something that happens to you;
- the future is made for you rather than by you;
- modern technology is not substantially different and no real new challenges are raised;
- schools are secure and relatively unaffected by technology and teachers are concerned with technicalities, not fundamental change;
- the starting point is the natural physical endowment of a nation, such as agricultural resources and cheap energy;
- the development of technology is a powerful and unchanging stream where the agenda for the future is fixed by the demands of technology;
- change is a linear process of gradual additions to the existing base;
- existing political structures and industries can be preserved and adapted;
- training is perceived as more important than education (those trained are to service an existing industrial base);
- students must know important facts-a common cultural literacy-which remains largely unchanged;
- people need the strong leadership of experts and expert knowledge and they want the security of being looked after by stable political systems (Jones and Hughes [n.d.]).
A problem with the traditional determinist views of thinking-described sometimes as critical thinking, philosophy, logic, or problem solving-is that such complex hierarchies of procedures are not readily transferable for use in everyday political, social, and working life. That is, these interpretations are not sufficiently useful to the great majority of students. The problem of irrelevance is increasingly compounded by the diverse social and economic circumstances that demand new decisions about what to know, how to know, and the when and why of knowing.
Theories about the processes of thinking are available and they are defined and made useful by portable thinking tools that fit the new circumstances and offer, as a most important bonus, positive effects on learner motivation and overall performance. Students enjoy learning the skills with which they can manage and enhance their capacity to make sense of their worlds!
The positions and directions presented and supported here have their practical expression in the work of Edward de Bono and the growing body of work in "synectics"-"a creative problem-solving process that carries participants from the analysis of problem solving to the generation and development of new ideas" (Weaver and Prince 1990).
Then, of course, the exciting reality of the many and celebrated discoveries generated by the Eureka! principle of thought (which relies on logic and critical analysis only after the idea is created) emerge. These new approaches and tools look at the cognitive behaviors of perception, intuition, and humor in fresh ways and attribute greater practical significance to them.
The Contexts for Thinking
How does the world of work for which students are preparing look? What employee and organizational characteristics do the texts and training programs describe as necessary for productivity, quality, and profit?
These books and training programs share common rationales and messages as they describe the sorts of skills and mind-sets employees and management must have in an effective, profitable organization.
They are clear about the characteristics that have no place in successful business. Academicians and practitioners alike are clear that there is no place for fearful, passive people able to do only as they are told and dependent on those in authority to assess the quality of their work and tell them what to do. They agree that the people essential to profitable business are able to work in teams, use their initiative, make creative decisions, make the future happen, take responsibility, and thrive on the need to change according to clients' needs. They must be willing to develop a real sense of dedication to the fortune of their organization and see that their actions are vital to overall success. They value their work as important. Managers do not require adversarial win-or-lose decision making; top-down "do-it-because-I-say"-type power structures play limited roles.
Computers and data banks have the facts and figures. People have to work with other people to get the job done. Although they have their tasks and products to complete, they are part of the whole usually working in teams, not isolated on a production line completing tasks for which they see no relevance.
Doing as you are told, when you are told, because someone in authority tells you is no longer the definition of a valuable employee.
Volunteer Mind-Sets Have Replaced Conscript Mind-Sets
John Dewey explained the need to teach thinking in a planned and deliberate way (1916, 151). His 1916 explanations echo the concerns of the 1990s.
While all thinking results in knowledge, ultimately the value of knowledge is subordinate to its use in thinking. For we live not in a settled and finished world, but in one which is going on, and where our main task is prospective, and where retrospect-and all knowledge as distinct from thought is retrospective-is of value in the solidity, security, and fertility it affords our dealings with the future.
In our postindustrial age, the rate of knowledge growth and general change is vastly greater than that of Dewey's computerless age. His observations are particularly poignant when one considers what our situation would be if we had heeded Dewey. Perhaps we'll listen now.
A fresh look at cognitive skills and a new set of values to promote them are the results of social changes and advances in cognitive psychology and information technology. These significant social changes and trends include:
The following observation by John Stuart Mill (1956) describes a perception shared by the members of the HOT group. It is a unifying description.
- the increasing need for a flexible work force capable of training continually for new demands;
- production tasks that increasingly require the application of intelligent judgment to technological tasks and systems rather than dexterity in manual skills;
- the need for workers to comprehend, interpret, and communicate not between discrete processes, but as participants within often intricate human and machine systems;
- the emergence of enterprise skills; and
- "the increasingly complex demands for good citizenship where intersubjective truth becomes less easy to identify" (Nisbet and Davies 1990).
In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he [sic] has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and to expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this: nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.
This view has had little influence on politics as usual and schooling as usual but it connects powerfully with the HOT team and contributes to the definition of civic competence, described by National Council for the Social Studies as the purpose of social studies. NCSS (1992) illuminates civic competence with the observation that "the primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens."
The more specific nature of higher-order thinking also bonds the HOT team together by identifying a common skill and mind-set base. Lauren Resnick (1987, 3) notes that higher-order thinking:
Learning and Schooling for Teaching Useful Thinking
- is nonalgorithmic-that is, the path of action is not fully specified in advance;
- tends to be complex-the total path is not visible (mentally speaking) from any single vantage point;
- often yields multiple solutions, each with costs and benefits, rather than unique solutions;
- involves nuanced judgment and interpretation;
- involves the application of multiple criteria, which sometimes conflict with each other;
- often involves uncertainty-not everything that bears on the task is known;
- involves self-regulation of the thinking process-we do not recognize higher-order thinking in an individual when someone else controls each step in a thinking process;
- involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder, and building rational frameworks for making judgment; and
- is effortful-there is considerable mental work involved in the kinds of elaborations and judgments required.
Social Education in the Nineties: A Basic Right of Every Person (Social Education Association of Australia 1990) is a typical example of the increasing emphasis on enabling students to develop attitudes, skills, and knowledge that are transferable for personal public use and useful in the "desirable future."
The preferred teaching-learning relationship is transactional rather than transmissive. In making that choice, the teacher prefers shared control of learning tasks to teacher control, is a facilitator rather than directive and didactic, prefers process to content, replaces extrinsic motivation with intrinsic motivation, and sees the child as an academic, active problem solver and decision maker rather than a passive student awaiting initiation through instruction into effective ways of knowing (Leithwood 1986). The need for creativity, flexibility, and perception are mutual characteristics in the social, economic, and learning contexts. An obvious outcome is the consequent general belief in the need to teach thinking in a direct and deliberate way.
A New Renaissance and Some Dark-Age Behavior
De Bono (1990, 5) and others believe that a New Renaissance is necessary to replace the inadequate thinking processes perpetuated by the last Renaissance, which "revived and polished the methods of Socrates and the other thinkers of the golden age of Greek philosophy."
He argues (1990) that the absolute nature of dichotomies (right/wrong, good/bad, us/them, friend/enemy, true/false) as presented in traditional thinking is dangerous and inadequate. He observes that "critical thinking lacks the productive, generative, creative, and design elements that are so needed to tackle problems and find our way forward" (6). Perception and creativity can and must be deliberately nurtured; new thinking paradigms are necessary if we are to find better ways into the future. The notion of design needs to be a generative force in our search for social and political solutions. Designing the future deserves some of the space taken up with mining for the right answer or the belief that our solutions exist by studying the facts harder.
Logic, critical thinking, and problem solving in the traditional sense have their place but are insufficient. They do not deserve the time and attention they get in the school curriculum. Characteristics typical of this type of teaching and thinking dominate schooling and permeate politics-as-usual and public debate. We must replace and discredit these characteristics, described later in this paper, if we are to see a shift from opinion to judgment as described by Daniel Yankelovich and the Kettering Foundation.
Yankelovich (1991) and the Kettering Foundation place great importance on a particular sort of public judgment as central to the health of community
politics. Yankelovich requires a public judgment that can counter "creeping expertism" and exhibits "(1) more thoughtfulness, more weighing alternatives, more genuine engagement with the issue, more taking into account a wider variety of factors than ordinary public opinion as measured in opinion polls, and (2) more emphasis on the normative, valuing, ethical side of questions than on the factual, informational side." (Consider this view of public judgment and its correlation with Mill's  perception and Resnick's characteristics of higher order thinking.) The characteristics of problem solving and learning forming barriers to the development of this sort of public judgment and effective deliberation have been identified in part by de Bono (1990), Weaver and Prince (1990), and Sternberg (1990).
De Bono (1990, 272) comments:
We have always highly esteemed critical thinking because we have believed that a "search for the truth" is what thinking is all about. As a result of this fallacy we have sadly neglected generative, productive, creative, and design aspects of thinking. New concepts, new perceptions, new hypotheses have to be created-they are not just discovered.
On problem solving, he notes that "the major defect of this traditional method of survival is that it will only get us back to where we were before. In business, politics, and social progress this idiom of 'problem solving' dangerously limits progress. Problem solving needs to be contrasted with the process of 'design,' which moves forward to a need."
The synectics (creative problem solving) movement has developed a thirty-year research base around the principle that by using "the mind's remarkable capacity to connect seemingly irrelevant elements of thought, we can spark surprising new ideas that may later be developed into feasible solutions to problems" (Weaver and Prince 1990, 378). De Bono (1973, 1990) offers specific strategies such as "PO" and Six Hat Thinking to enhance this process. Weaver and Prince (1990) conclude that current school practices often unintentionally limit children's potential for using connections to solve problems creatively. They identify six pervasive tendencies that limit effective thinking:
Sternberg (1987) identifies fallacies that obstruct the effective teaching of thinking. They include the following:
- Maintaining inflexible criteria of what constitutes appropriate thinking. Rather than encourage speculation and silly connections and create some confusion and uncertainty for the sake of new ideas, we avoid state of "wrongness." Speculation demands stages of confusion but we brand as poor thinking anything without linear, lockstep logic.
- Insistence on literalness. Only in the very young do we tolerate or encourage exploration and imagination as a way of making useful meaning.
- Prematurely eliminating connection. The school culture tends to punish approximate thinking as mistaken thinking. We usually think that good problem solving requires immediate decisions about relevance rather than the suspension of judgment.
- Self-censoring and self-punishment. We are taught to be self-critical to a point where it becomes extremely difficult to turn the censors off and perceive things in new ways. We are not good at treating ourselves kindly when an experiment "fails"; the fallacy that good thinkers get it right because they are trained or skilled in the right way predominates.
- Listening for flaws. We want to avoid making mistakes and being associated with the mistakes of others; it is far easier to demonstrate a sharp mind by finding the faults rather than exploring the promising strengths.
Sternberg concentrates on various styles of thinking and notes that schools and other institutions tend to reward styles that work now but will not work later; doing what you are told may be required at school but will be inadequate in the world.
- The teacher is the teacher and the student is the learner. All of us-teachers and students alike-have a long way to go before we become proficient in critical thinking. In fact, teachers often lack the openness and receptivity of the students. They are less willing to shake free of the traces of their own expertise (457).
- Critical thinking is the students' jobs and only the students' job. We must evaluate our own performance and strategies in the same way we want the students to think about the problems they have to address.
- The most important thing to decide on is the correct program. No program is best and a program must be tailored to the goals of its users. First decide on goals, and only then decide on how to go about accomplishing them (458).
- What really counts is the right answer. Very often in critical-thinking problems there are no right answers, and even when there are it is the thought process that counts. Ultimately, students who think well will be in a position to generate good answers, whereas students who generate good answers do not always think well (458).
- Class discussion is primarily a means to an end. Because collective effort is so important in our daily lives and because we now realize that at least a substantial portion of our ability to think originates outside ourselves, we view class discussion as more than a peripheral part of a thinking-skills program (459).
- The job of a course in critical thinking is to teach critical thinking. Students must ultimately learn to teach themselves; all we can do is provide every possible means to enable this self-instruction to take place (459).
Conditions for the Growth of Deliberation, Judgment, Profit,
We can find these conditions in considering alternatives to the negatives outlined so far. From a classroom point of view, the following are also important.
As Alvin Toffler observes, the real problem is to sort out the values that motivate our social and individual behavior, to analyze them clearly and profoundly, to uncover the conflicts between them, and then to choose, as consciously as we know how, which one to give precedence.
- Children must be comfortable with the insecurity of flexibility. Teachers must replace admiration for unshakable positions with respect for a willingness to change in the face of valid and reliable new information.
- Teachers must comfortably and enthusiastically accept that thinking is a skill that students can improve through active and deliberate effort.
- Teachers must see thinking as a dynamic, interactive process rather than mainly an individual private activity. Teachers, students, and society generally must test and accept the idea that the product of a group effort may be greater than its individual parts.
- We need to explore ways of keeping ego and thinking separate. Although people have their opinions and see them as a part of self, they find it difficult to make objective assessments. The ability to modify a position as a response to new situations depends on the ability to keep opinions at arms' length.
- People must make choices together and know that the quality of those choices depends on the quality of their thinking together.
- We must replace the common practice of taking a position and then defending against all alternatives with the habit of considering the issues and then forming a considered judgment.
- Parents and teachers must provide children with the skills and opportunities necessary to develop a values system that can remain constant. Socially and morally autonomous people possess a set of values that they have arrived at through a reliable process of understanding and thought. They have a set of values they understand and are able to justify to themselves and others.
- Fear of decision and the paralysis of analysis is a dangerous potential by-product of constant concentration on thinking as a process. We must make choices and decide actions; the focus of review must be on the quality of choices and the consequences of the actions.
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