Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the school of lateral thinking

Through the ages, it has been thought that there are two major types of reasoning: deductive and inductive. Do we start from a general rule and apply it to new practice using deductive reasoning, or do we observe practice and state what the law could be, using inductive reasoning? Here are some examples to understand these fundamental thinking tools.
Top down thinking
All students are motivated by grades (general rule)
Lisa is a student (particular)
Therefore lisa is motivated by grades (result of deductive reasoning)

Bottom up thinking
Lisa is motivated by grades (particular)
Tracy is motivated by grades (particular)
Students are motivated by grades (result of inductive reasoning)
We are constantly applying deductive and inductive reasoning subconsciously in order to make sense of the world around us. But the results of this reasoning do not necessarily have to be true in order to be valid. While the above examples are valid forms of argumentation, they are not by definition true. In fact, you don't have to spend much time in education to realize that the first premisis (all students are motivated by grades) is not a truthful starting point. Similarly the bottom up thinking rushes to a generalization.
Edward de Bono (1933 -) came up with the notion of lateral thinking as an alternative route to the truth. It's the kind of thinking that happens 'outside the box', using less conventional means of argumentation. Some techniques to make this magic happen included:

  1. challenging the current models of problem solving for the subject of concern,

  2. randomly relate seemingly unrelated things to our problem solving session by looking to objects in the room or pulling labels from a hat, or

  3. being provocative and discussing that which we take for granted, like circular wheels or mugs with handles. These take the form of 'what if' statements.

Applying all of this to education is fun. A school in Texas started offering students financial rewards for graduating and their success rates increased. Needless to say , the results were as contentious as their method, but it got an interesting debate rolling on the nature of motivation at school that went much further than the examples on iductive and deductive reasoning as put forth above. And speaking of financial rewards, what if we lived in a world where teachers received exorbitant salaries, like those of football stars or CEO's? Would the quality of lessons increase or decrease? This kind of thinking is not only provocative though. It sheds light on the nature of education. Here are some more examples of lateral thinking on education.

  • What if every student who failed an academic year had to do community service to make up for society's lost investment in him/her?

  • What if there were no attendance requirements and students were free to come and go as they pleased?

  • What if students assessed themselves?
Can you add to the list?

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