Teaching Kids to Think for Themselves

“…if the schools wouldn’t spend so much of the early
years stamping out individuality and denying the students’ right to think
for themselves, they wouldn’t have to work so hard in the later years
developing individual responsibility and initiative.” – Ruth Pell

Teaching children to think for themselves starts from infancy. True, it’s important to teach kids how our society works and what our culture expects from them. It’s also important to give them the choice of deciding if they like what society is trying to teach them – that’s what independence is. That’s how kids learn who they are and how to think critically about their experiences.

Parents need to teach kids how things are and then teach them how to question it. Without the freedom to ask questions and say “no”, and “I’ll do it my way.”, kids slowly learn that it’s futile to even try. It’s no wonder when they are older that they no longer have the energy or desire to be self-reliant and independent. Either that, or they are so fed up that they want to break all the rules – it’s a lot less stressful to break them than to follow them.

Without freedom of thought and a life-time of learning how to make our own decisions, how can we have strength of critical thinking and smart decision making?

Some cultural “training” and following authority is important to understand and practice in order to have a functioning society. But full-time standards-based education takes it too far. It’s pounding a nail for an hour when it only needed three quick taps to flatten it against the wood.

This doesn’t only happen in school. It can happen when educating at home too. Little kids need freedom to be who they are, while having clear boundaries. Give them the playground and enforce the barriers around it, but let them play in that playground with what they want. The world, BTW, is the playground.

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2 Responses to “Teaching Kids to Think for Themselves”

  1. amelia Says:

    “But full-time standards-based education takes it too far. It’s pounding a nail for an hour when it only needed three quick taps to flatten it against the wood.”

    Good way of putting it. Don’t most kids have plenty of other opportunities to learn a little “sit still/don’t run and don’t make too much noise” discipline — e.g., church, the library, the movies, simply learning not to interrupt other people who are talking … (okay, still working on that one around here.)

    I also remember when I was a kid, 6 or 7, when we still judged other kids not as pretty/ugly or cool/uncool but as good/bad, I thought of myself as a “good kid at school and a bad kid at home.” Somehow I got the impression that I needed to “be good” at school, but that didn’t translate into overall virtue or life skills for me.

  2. Mette Says:

    Hi there, that commenter is me 🙂 and I just read your thoughts about this, and thought I´d let you know what it made me reflect upon (again): I agree with you totally, in what you say about having to “come to conclusions through debate (..) tossing around alternatives” etc. I hope I didn´t give the impression that I want my kids to just blindly follow what I do or say just because I do or say it. I´m a perfect product (or was in any case :-)) myself of that mentality of “you´ll do as your told as long as your under MY roof.” My own mother kept repeating to me “when you´re 18 you can do what you want”…so that´s what I did… I always thought it was a stupid way to argue for ones case…SO, I absolutely know what I DON´T want to repeat :-).
    But your post got me thinking real hard on a couple of things. You write “Allowing our children to want things we don’t like is giving them the freedom to figure out what is right for them and for their world…” As you might have understood from my original comment, I was already meditating on this, thinking about how much of my own values I can reasonably transfer to my kids and impose on them, by different means (one being to deny them things because of my own moral issues with them for instance). So reading your words, put this way, and also what you continue to say about needing “to give them lots of opportunity and freedom to believe other things, and have their own minds”, rings very true and really hits home with me. It doesn´t seem counter-intutive to me at all infact, since I know very well that this is how things work, but being a product af a totally different mindset, I need lots of reminders to keep thinking this way and above all, to act accordingly :-). Your post then, was one of these reminders, thanks 🙂


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