Friday, October 3, 2014

Thinking About Thinking


Sorry for the long delay in returning to this blog after the summer. I am working on a book and trying to find time for everything! But I'm committed to continuing to write the blog and appreciate the messages from many of you letting me know that you enjoy reading the posts.

A new school year and, as usual, I am so inspired by the children with whom I'm doing philosophy. Currently in two classrooms (2nd and 3rd grades) at one school and two classrooms (4th and 5th grades) at another. This week I began class with what I thought was going to be a warm-up exercise (created by my colleague David Shapiro), and in each class it turned into a 40-50 minute session about thinking. Another example of being flexible about your lesson plan!

The exercise starts with a simple question, "Are you thinking?" Most or all of the students acknowledge that they are. "How do you know you're thinking?" Some of the responses in the 3rd grade class: "I can hear words in my head." "I am listening to you and so I'm thinking." "I am always thinking, as long as I'm alive." This led us to a conversation about whether you can stop thinking, and whether there are different kinds of thinking. One student suggested, "You think all the time. But there's thinking that you know you're doing, like a math problem, and then there's thinking that you don't know you're doing, like when you dream."We then talked about thinking thoughts you like to have, and whether you can control your thoughts. We tried to all think of the same thing at the same time, and observed that this is very hard to do! One student noted that even if we all say we're thinking about, say, a peanut, we all might actually be having different thoughts that we call thinking about a peanut.

"Are there things you can't think about?" One student replied, "You can't think that you're not thinking." Other students pointed out that the minute you express what you're not thinking about, you're thinking about it. We talked about the distinction between having a thought and expressing a thought. Another student commented that we can't think about the things we don't know or haven't experience, and we spent a long time puzzling over whether you can think about someone else's experience. Are you thinking about their experiences, or can you just think about someone else having your experiences? When someone tells you about their experiences, do you think about the experiences or just about what someone told you?

We spent a long time talking about whether there are different kinds of thinking. Several students observed that there are times when you're so involved in something, like listening to or playing music, that you're not thinking. "But isn't that a kind of thinking?" another student asked. We talked about whether everything your mind does involves thinking. One student said, "Sometimes my mind just goes dark, and for at least a moment I'm not thinking." "But," another student commented, "aren't you just thinking of a dark space?"

At the end the students wrote in their philosophy journals in response to the question, "Do you think that we think all the time?  Why or why not?"

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