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Divergent Thinking

sara.gladwin's picture

Today, I went on a walk with ekthorp and sarahj to discuss what our plans would be to arrange the opening and closing for tomorrow’s ramble. On our way back we began discussing “the Lives of Animals” and I became really fixated on the part of Elizabeth’s speech where she brings up Sultan, who is starved until he can achieve his task. In doing so, he is being trained to focus and give importance to only one thing, and being asked to disregard all other possible thoughts or distractions. I had recently listened to this podcast that had reminded me of Sultan for another one of Anne’s classes ( and it had a huge effect on my thinking. One of the things discussed in the podcast is how children are taught to direct their attention, to close themselves off to divergent and distracting thoughts. I began to see a connect here between the way we are conditioned to focus and the way in which Sultan was taught to abandon his instincts and focus only on one thing in order to achieve his task. I wondered about the way we teach children, and how often learning and play are intertwined. Most “play” moments actually serve as teaching moments, where children learn problem-solving skills, teambuilding skills, leadership skills. It doesn’t seem like children are ever just playing. However, I’m starting to wonder whether or not it is “ecologically literate” to teach and condition children to filter out divergent thinking. In a way, the majority of children are being taught not to pay attention to their surroundings, to let the environment fade into the background. Only certain, more materialistic things seem to be valuable enough to warrant our attention. Maybe a more environmentally friendly way of teaching children would be to actually use the environment as a place of learning. I don’t think we should entirely stop teaching children to focus, but maybe the environment would be better protected if we indulged divergent thinking more, instead of always attempting to shut it down. Maybe the world would be better served if instead of reprimanding the student whose eye has been caught by whatever environment can be seen from a classroom window, we were to give that student the opportunity to go outside, to broaden their thinking horizons. Maybe we would be able to expand our concept of importance, give focus to what has been consistently pushed into the backgrounds of our imaginations.



Smacholdt's picture

This reminds me a lot of

This reminds me a lot of themes in Louisa May Alcott’s book little Men, the sequel to Little Women which discusses the school which Jo opens with her husband to educate young  boys.  The education that Jo provides for her pupils would be considered very unconventional by any educational standard. Students are allowed to have pets, participate in pillow fights, and are left semi- to their own devices, as long as they can explain how what they are doing is educational.  At one point, one of the main pupils becomes lost in the woods, but he eventually finds his ways back. I think it can be argued that even this could count towards his education. I agree that any experience has the potential to become educational, but to get the most out of the experience requires the participant to do some post-experience reflecting.

froggies315's picture

This sounds sort of similar

This sounds sort of similar to  Sudbury Schools/Free Schools.  For the past few years, I’ve been peripherally interested in these schools.  This thread has got me thinking about them again.  I like this quote from the wikipedia article the best: “school [is] based on the belief that no kind of curriculum is necessary to prepare a young person for adult life.”  BOLD.  True? ehh...

sara.gladwin's picture

thanks for showing me this!

I'd never heard of this before. It kind of reminds me of that movie called Accepted, where the high school student doesn't get accepted into any colleges and ends up falsifying his own in order to please his dad but somehow ends up creating a real school that students show up to attend.... in the end though they find that the environment they create together is much more satisfying and full of more learning than a traditional education ever was.

froggies315's picture

I remember watching that

I remember watching that movie with friends senior year of high school.  We nervously laughed our way through it.  It was funny, but we were all terrified of not getting acceptance letters.  In the end, we did--just like our mothers told us we would.

froggies315's picture

I’m interested the idea of

I’m interested the idea of “just playing.”  A few years ago, someone who I work with divided up the teaching and learning world into “games and shit” and experiential education.  What separates these two things is what happens after a group does something together.  She said that if you don’t debrief/reflect then what did was just “games and shit.”  If you do reflect, then you’ll probably learn something.  It’s reflection that puts you in the holy realm of experiential education.  I think “games and shit” (just playing?) are really important.  We all need time for relaxing, and it’s relaxing to play a game or go for a walk and just be in the moment.  At the same time, a teachers’ job is to focus attention, to use play or text to teach problem-solving, team building, and leadership.  Teachers who don't focus attention via reflection with their students are lazy.  I think just playing is something we have to learn on our own and with our friends outside of supervision and away from teachers.