Missing From Education: Time to Think?

In a recent Huff Post entry, "The Teaching Profession: Then and Now," I described the autonomy I had as a young teacher, back in the '60s, to experiment with my classes and create my own teaching materials. I loved teaching science because I was passionate about it and wanted to share my enthusiasm with others. My biggest problem was that there wasn't enough time in the day for me to both teach and create the materials.

When I left teaching to raise a family, (which was what was done in those days), I had the opportunity to begin a career as a writer. At first, I naively thought that if I could talk about science I could write about it. I soon learned that the craft of writing well also took time -- time to think, time to compose and time to iterate with feedback from editors. The funny thing about writing is that it changes the writer. You are not exactly the same person after doing a piece of work than you were before it. As long as I kept meeting new challenges in my various projects I experienced personal growth and development. This undoubtedly applies to every type of human endeavor. But being a professional writer demands that one consciously builds into each day time to think and reflect.

The Common Core State Standards require that students be able to read nonfiction so that they can identify the main idea, find evidence in the text to support the idea and then explain how the evidence supports the main idea. This last part is very difficult for children. It means that they have to think about what they've read and express their thoughts in their own words, not just parrot back what the teacher said or take a wild stab at what they think the teacher wants to hear. Teachers need time to figure out how to teach thinking. Right now many complain that teaching thinking would take too much time away from the busy schedule that mandates they cover the curriculum in order to be ready for the TEST. It seems no one in school these days has time to think.

Ever notice when confronted with a thorny problem that the solution is magically in your brain the next morning? Dr. Jeffery Ellenbogen 's research at Harvard indicates that if an incubation period includes sleep, people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas, and yet, as he puts it, these performance enhancements exist "completely beneath the radar screen." They are not beneath mine. I have not only noticed this phenomenon but I rely on it. I'm a "lark," a morning person.

I wake up with all kinds of ideas teeming in my brain. In fact, I know myself so well that I can hardly wait to wake up and see what I've discovered. Sleep isn't my only technique to get my brain to cough up solutions. I treat my brain as the computer it is. There's the "guzinta" period, where I read and research and feed my brain information. Then I give my brain instructions: e.g. "You must think of a Huff Post piece using this material." Then I give my brain a deadline "you have two days." After that, I let go and forget about it. Amazingly, my brain has never failed me and the pressure from the "guzouta" period compels me to race to my keyboard. Coming up with a post is a relatively simple task. Coming up with a creative solution that led to starting a company took a lot longer. But the process is the same. It is my guess that all creative people ultimately figure out how to get their own personal brains in high gear. Such "eureka" moments are addictive.

Many pundits are in agreement that creativity and innovation are going to be essential qualities for individuals to survive in the 21st century. In his book Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner analyzes the necessary conditions to produce people who can change the world for the better. It takes exploration and play as a child; it takes mentorship and guidance from adults. But most of all it takes time to learn how one thinks.

Hmmmmmm ... So what do you think about this?