Column: Education And Independent Thinking

July 20, 2018 | 1 Comment

[Opinion column written by Shadow Minister of Education Cole Simons]

As a former Education Minister, and the current Shadow Minister of Education, I thought that I would share with the community some ideas I came across after reading an interesting article on education and independent thinking.

It had a profound impact on me. It made good food for thought, and I thought that it might be of interest to our students, educators and parents.

I actually first wrote this article 16 years ago, but I don’t believe anything has fundamentally changed since then and the ideas are as fresh now as they were then.

Albert Einstein said: “It is not enough to teach a man a specialty. Through it he may become a useful machine, but not a harmonious developed personality. It is essential that students acquire an understanding of, and lively feeling of, values. They must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and the morally good, otherwise, the student with their specialized knowledge more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He, or she, must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings, in order to acquire a proper relationship to fellow men, and the community.”

These things are conveyed to our young people through personal contact with those who teach, not, or at least not in the main, through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves cultures.

Over emphasis on the competitive system, and premature specialization on the grounds of its immediate usefulness, betrays the essence on which all cultural life depends.

Teaching should be such that, what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift, and not a hard duty.

Intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to new situations, and the capacity to learn from past experiences. If your car breaks down on the highway, who is the most important person for the job? Is it the person with the PhD, or a car mechanic with a high school education? If you become lost in a big city, who is likely to be the greatest help to you at the time? An absent minded professor, or a little boy with a great sense of direction?

Intelligence depends on the context, the tasks and the demands that life presents to us. And not on an IQ score which is how one will perform in school, and not how a student will do in the real world, after they get out into the real world.

Schools have always been the most important means of transferring the wealth of tradition from one generation to the next. This applies today in an even higher degree than in the past, for through the current development of economic life, the family as the bearer of tradition and education has weakened. The continuance and health of our community is still, therefore, in a much higher degree dependent on our schools.

Sometimes, one sees schools as simply the instrument of transferring an amount of knowledge to the generations which follow. Knowledge is dead, schools serve the living. It should develop in our young people those qualities and capabilities which are of value for the welfare of the community.

For a community of standardized individuals without personal originality, and personal aims would be a poor community, without the possibility of development. The aim of our schools must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals, and see service in the community as their highest life challenge.

The most important motive for work in school, and in life, is the pleasure of work, pleasure of its results, and the knowledge of the value of our community. With such a foundation, our young people will realize an insatiable thirst for knowledge and artist like workmanship.

Albert Einstein also said: “Education is that which remains, when one has forgotten everything else that he or she has learned in school”.

Schools should always have as its aim, that its students leave it as harmonious personalities, and not just specialists. The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgment should always be placed ahead of the acquisition of specialized knowledge. If a student masters the fundamentals of their subject, and has learned to think and work independently, they will surely find his or her way, and will be able to better adapt to progress and changes.

We in Bermuda must do our best to ensure that these ideas are considered and adopted in our homes and schools, as organizations like the OECD have found that a country’s economic progress and stature is directly linked to its level of literacy and education.

In light of these precepts, as a community, we must teach our young people to become critical thinkers and teach them the value of our community, and the roles that they have to play therein.

- Cole Simons

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  1. Rocky5 says:

    Excellent article & many thanks. This is almost the exact opposite of what is actually going on in our Public Schools

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