Published here with permission from The MOORE REPORT INTERNATIONAL - September/October
The Moore Foundation,
Box 1, Camas,
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,
are normally so excited in their early years. We give them adult contrived fantasies
Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse. We then proceed to institutionalize
this foolishness in the classroom almost to the point of reverence, when in fact
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
the basic learning skills of the Western world, and open the doors -- in libraries,
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
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
which are the questions answered by the curriculum in most conventional schools
when we give them the right models they get more than the instructional picture;
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
Abraham Lincolns and Wright brothers; Abigail Adams's, Pearl Bucks and Sandra Day
Already we are seeing a great many such youngsters in the home school renaissance,
back to the educational practices that gave us such men and women through the history
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
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
They will be creative, free-enterprising individuals of the kind who build strong
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"