Published here with permission from The MOORE REPORT INTERNATIONAL - September/October 2002

The Moore Foundation, Box 1, Camas, WA 98607

Learning How to Think

by Raymond and Dorothy Moore

No wonder Thomas Edison's mother was so angry at Tom's teachers who declared him to be stupid and ill-behaved. Young Tom found little or no challenge in the rigid boundaries of class-room instruction. His creativity stifled, his fantasies grounded, he begged out of the mental prison. His fine mind clearly was not being challenged, and he rebelled against the stupor being imposed upon him by a stolid pedagogue. He refused the extrusion process in which most students come out the same-sized bologna and went home to have fun in real-life learning by observing, experimenting, and creating.

Exactly the same havoc is being wrought on our children before our very faces these days as we blithely look on. All indications are that something is wrong with "the system," but we are so much prisoners of convention that we can't believe the ball is in our court. Besides it is inconvenient to be bothered so we turn the other way. Then we wonder why we reap such horrendous failure and delinquency in an era when our children should be riding high in all areas. In fact, we are finding that warm, responsive parents who educate their children at home usually bring out genius in some area, such as art, music, electronics, writing, astronomy, and other sciences.

Learning to be thinkers rather than mere reflectors of others' thoughts should be a constant goal in the education of your children, both for their academic achievement and for character's sake. If you help your children to think through the consequences of their thoughts and actions and to realize that one day they inevitably must face those consequences in one way or another, they are more likely to be on their way to sound behavior.

The recipe for making thinkers is simple, but requires your close, affectionate, and consistent attention to your children:

First, your truthful responsiveness (and again we stress consistency) is crucial. Don't give them a silly answer one time and a serious one another. This does not mean you have no humor, for the best humor is not farcical, but grows out of real life incidents. Joking and jesting, on the other hand, are being humorous just for the sake of being funny, and are never appropriate if you want stable thinkers.

Second, remember not to expect much deep or consistent thoughtfulness of children under age eight, and even less if they are younger.

Third, beginning at around ages three to five, ask why and how questions, first very simple ones and then more complex as they grow older. Don't demand deep or complex answers until the age range of about eight to twelve (but be happy and especially attentive if your child has achieved this cognitive readiness earlier.) Yet don't feel disappointed if your child is a slow developer; he may be the brightest of all.

Around ages three to five, you can ask or answer such questions as "Why does Daddy leave every morning?" (He goes to work.) Or "How do you get water out of the faucet?" (Turn it on.) Or yet, "Why does ice float?" (It has air inside, making it lighter than water.)

There is always a risk involved, of course, when children are encouraged to think. A key challenge will be how attentive and responsive you can be to their questions and the consistency of your sound example. Otherwise they will look to others.

In the first place, we start our children out wrong when we force them into any institutional care before they are able to reason consistently. No teacher or caretaker can listen, respond, and provide the love and firmness that are needed in these early years. Formal academic pressures, whether at home or school, may force a child to learn many facts but will fail to allow the child to attain his or her maximum cognitive development. Such reasoning skills as putting oneself in another's place, abstract thinking, and moral judgments of right and wrong cannot be taught to children on a consistent basis until they are around eight to twelve years old -- the ages when they reach cognitive readiness.

Many schools, realizing that their children are not ready for such thoughtful studies, simply give them workbookish nonsense, which is boring and stifles their imaginations, which are normally so excited in their early years. We give them adult contrived fantasies such as Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse. We then proceed to institutionalize and conventionalize this foolishness in the classroom almost to the point of reverence, when in fact it deprives our youngsters of doing their own thing.

Because of time constraints and other pressures, teachers tend to handle classes by having students memorize facts for tests rather than helping them apply principles, digest, assimilate, and organize information. Such technique makes the student more or less dependent on the judgment and perception of others.

Look at the finding of Professor McCurdy when he was preparing the report on genius for the Smithsonian Institution: Your children need (1) a great deal of you, (2) very little of their agemates, and (3) a rich experience in exploring for themselves.1 Somehow young Tom Edison's mother understood this. It mattered not for her that she did not have a college education, nor will it for you.

What does matter is that you give your children a lot of warm responsiveness. Do not rush them into formal study at home or in school, but in due time see that they have the basic learning skills of the Western world, and open the doors -- in libraries, at home, in the great outdoors -- for them to search for themselves. Otherwise they will fail to reach their potential because they have been sent to school before they were cognitively ready for what they would experience.

As was implied earlier, children who are taught to think for themselves invariably will be asking more whys and hows and few whats, wheres, and whens, which are the questions answered by the curriculum in most conventional schools today. And when we give them the right models they get more than the instructional picture; they gain an experience. Their instruction becomes three dimensional. When we do, we will have many more George Washingtons and George Washington Carvers; Benjamin Franklins and Andrew Carnegies; Abraham Lincolns and Wright brothers; Abigail Adams's, Pearl Bucks and Sandra Day O'Conners. Already we are seeing a great many such youngsters in the home school renaissance, which harks back to the educational practices that gave us such men and women through the history of America.

When you are warm and responsive, a consistent comrade to your children, you will build a creative integrity. As they grow into ages of consistent reasonability, they will think things through in a sound way and will be safe for the family democracy. Such children are much better candidates for self-control, the kind of discipline which will be a credit to you. They have that quality of self-worth which is altogether more productive than mere self-esteem. They will be creative, free-enterprising individuals of the kind who build strong families and great nations.

1 Harold G. McCurdy, "The Childhood Pattern of Genius," Horizon 3 (May 1960):33-8

The above article was excerpted from the Moore's book "Home Built Discipline" pgs. 138-142