Available to read free online at “Education News” is Practice Makes Perfect: How to Rescue Education One Classroom At a Time by John Jensen, Ph.D.  I admit the only chapter I have read is chapter 23, It’s Good to Know What You’re Doing.  Dr. Jensen and I may completely disagree concerning education reform for all I know, but I found chapter 23 so powerful and important I wanted to share it with you right away.

Some time ago I realized I needed to seek the truth about the issues – regardless the issue.  I didn’t need to be “right.”  I needed to know the “truth.”  Some of my positions on issues have completely reversed as my search led me to the “truth,” while some positions are now stronger than ever having found ample evidence to support the “truth.”

No one cares if you use Crest or Colgate, drink Coke or Pepsi, but be open on where you stand on religion, abortion, politics or school choice and someone may flip out on you.  While you may disagree with some people and they gleefully engage in debate with you, far too often others will dismiss you as being no less than evil for believing differently than they do.  Ever wonder why? 

Emotions.

In Chapter 23 of Dr. Jensen’s book he discusses, in part:

Once we claim an identity and world view, altering even a single aspect of it faces built-in resistance.

If we fail in the classroom, the most likely reason will be our own mediocre thinking.

Below are a few snippets to whet your appetite, but we strongly recommend reading chapter 23 the full Here.  It is somewhat long, but very informative.

The ability to relinquish an old idea and adopt a better one is often referred to as beginner’s mind, remaining teachable. In truth it can be extremely hard to obtain. Despite our rational acknowledgement of how much we don’t know, few of us can change just by preferring a better idea. For us to add a single thing to our lives, it must take over a niche already claimed by something else. New information may have to replace or contradict opinions we’ve harbored, or we may need to acknowledge that we‘ve believed something incorrect or that our former actions were counter-productive.  We instinctively avoid such thinking because it undermines our confidence that we’re rational and competent.

The problem of how to think about social challenges, I believe, is larger than education.  In any field, one may encounter a paralyzing mindset. “It’s difficult to convince nonsense that it is nonsense,” said William Gladstone.  A recent editorial writer noted, “It’s hard to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.”

I once heard a consultant discuss the biggest problems million-dollar Internet companies run into. The main difficulty, he explained, is that people don’t identify and overcome their single main limitation…Apply these clues to our school system.  Lots of effort for minimal results?  Yep. Great potential everyone agrees on?  Yep.  Choruses of people recounting the flaws in the system?  Yes again. Conclusion: Is it time to check how mediocre thinking is holding us back?  I propose so.

This is significant for us because the quality of thinking in schools mirrors the quality of thinking in society. When the latter is irrational, it drives out rationality wherever the two touch, so that schools, like society, only erratically seek out evidence, are logically consistent, and make sense overall. We’re spurred to notice whether we

  • Fail to obtain the evidence
  • Overrate evidence supporting what we want
  • Underrate evidence contradicting what we want
  • Place undue emotion on pros and cons
  • Rely on habit

Emotional overtones make mediocre thinking slippery. Nearly every thought in need of correction is feeling-based but perhaps not overtly. Often such content simply narrows the scope of thinking, pruning away other ideas that could correct it. Pride, envy, and resentment can cloak themselves in apparent rationality as though the course selected were the only one conceivable. When rational evidence is consistently ignored, we justly suspect emotional reasons at play. The big problems we create usually issue from willfully misreading information there for the taking.

Signs of mediocre thinking are 1) you’re not getting the results you expected and didn’t see them coming. 2) You discount others’ thinking when they try to present a different perspective. Because you think you already know, you regard their thinking as superfluous. 3) You claim as part of your identity habits that don’t even help you: “I’m assertive” (even if your bluntness hurts others’ feelings), “I’m easy going” (even if the job doesn’t get done), and “I watch out for the evil in the world” (even though I’m suspicious when it’s not warranted).  4) You rely on group think, connecting with others of similar belief while discounting contrary viewpoints. 5) You leap impulsively to premature conclusions, declaring what a small scrap of evidence means. 6) Your thinking mirrors unfiltered the thoughts you pick up from society–watching TV, reading books, and listening to authorities. Maybe you learned that “Dad always said this, “and from TV dramas that complex solutions are achievable with bursts of effort. 7) Your personal reference group may emphasize certain things (“Don’t let anyone ‘dis’ you,” or “Disagreement equals dislike.”) You preserve systems that don’t work because they operate with your ideas and you like them better than other people’s, “which you‘re supposed to do, aren’t you?”

Schools doing exceptionally well tend to focus energy differently. Students work harder, longer, and better and for more motivating reasons. Administrators take pride in a creative design that varies from place to place, but everyone commits to its details of funding, personnel, student life, instruction, and curriculum as their tool for good education.

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