I am amazed at how many magazine cover stories in the last couple of months have been written on the power of the human mind.
- Wired wondered how we could use our brain’s circuitry to improve our behavior.
- Mental Floss advertised an article on “conquering” the brain.
- The cover of Scientific American asked if human beings could get any smarter.
- The Atlantic published a series on how genius works.
- An article in Parents explained how to motivate your child to learn.
And those were just the ones I noticed!
It’s not surprising that we’re fascinated by our intellects. Especially now, as educators and policy makers are talking about teaching our kids “21st century skills” we’re all wondering what exactly that means, how we’re supposed to teach them, and whether our kids will have them.
While that term might refer to a number of abilities, it’s generally meant to include critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. As we have quickly moved from an industrial economy to the information age, these skills are as necessary as agriculture was two centuries ago and machine skills were during the early part of the 20th century.
It’s natural to think of our children’s education in terms of teaching them how to think properly. We teach them math, teach them science, teach them logic, teach them problem solving… we are, indeed, fascinated by how we can train our brains to think. If you’ve watched my classes for long, you know that this fascinates me, too.
But we cannot forget an integral function of the mind. Not only does it think, but it feels. Our emotional and moral intelligences are too often undervalued, but without stability and skills in those areas, all of our intellectual achievements are unproductive and unsatisfying.
Helping my students increase their emotional stability is one of my greatest challenges.
I often ask them the same questions over and over. “Why are you here?” They respond, “To learn, Sir!”
“What do you want to learn?” I ask. They answer, “Attitude and technique, Sir!”
You may have noticed that I place a great emphasis on attitude. In my opinion, attitude is everything! “Technique” includes the physical and mental skills of each new form. That’s important, but even more important is the emotional skills associated with attitude. Without those skills, even the brightest children will have a tough time coping with the challenges they face and the mistakes they will inevitably make. Mistakes are hardly ever the real problem. It’s what we learn from our mistakes and how we move forward that determines our ultimate success.
Unfortunately, I think our educational system has spent much too much time overvaluing thinking skills (whether or not they’ve effectively taught thinking skills is another question!) and undervaluing emotional skills. Before I tell you why I believe we’ve strayed from this important understanding, I’d like to hear your opinions. Have we lost our focus? Where did we go wrong, and why is this such a problem for today’s kids?