Little thinks or Big thinks?*

I’ve been doing some deep thinking recently, about…’the art of deep thought’. Not this time the computer in the HHGTTG, but the phrase being presently used by academics and politicians without, as usual, any clear explanation as to what they really mean. For example: (Nice Mr Gove) said he ” wanted to switch emphasis back to examinations taken at the end of two years of study in order to revive the art of deep thought.”

And this very morning on the Andrew Marr Show on TV he explained that if there was a return to a two year A level course it would enable students to spend more time on things like Art and Music to provide a balance to those subjects that required deep thought.

So what exactly is deep thought? And will I be able to buy some in the deep freeze aisle in M&S?

Well, some research (now there’s the first clue in itself) reveals a lengthy text (clue number two), full of obscure words (ah, have I cracked it already?). Well, no, not quite – it seems it’s a bit more complicated than that. Apparently deep thinking skills include:

  • Asking different sorts of open-ended questions about things
  • Thinking about your own thinking processes
  • Putting things in your own words
  • Applying principles to real situations
  • Analysing information into component parts
  • Connecting separate pieces of information to form larger patterns, guidelines or products
  • Evaluating the validity, morality and aesthetic value of ideas, data or products
  • Drawing logical conclusions
  • Deriving principles
  • Making a case for and against an argument
  • Identifying cause-effect relationships
  • Identifying ethical issues
  • Generating creative and imaginative ideas and innovative strategies

And it also seems there is something called ‘deep reading’ which involves a mixture of horizontal reading (ie in bed?) and vertical reading (ie standing up?).To be effective, the information gathered by horizontal, broad reading needs to appropriately interact with narrow, vertical reading.

So what deep conclusions can we draw from all this? The first, and undoubtedly the most surprising, is that just for once All Change Please! finds itself in agreement with nice Mr Gove that more deep thinking would be a good thing. Except of course, in his desire to return to a romanticised, ivory-tower view of rigorous academic study, he has himself probably not thought through his sound-bite very deeply. If he had, he would have realised that many so-called ‘soft’ subjects, with their extended practical open-ended coursework requirements, provide an excellent opportunity for deep thought and action. And that deep thought is not necessarily verbal in nature, but can also be visual, symbolic, musical, etc. Meanwhile if he is really interested in promoting deep thinking, then what better place to start than by promoting and accrediting the QCA’s Personal Learning and Thinking Skills as part of his new English/French Baccalaureate GCSE proposal?

And has Mr Gove yet realised that what we need is not so much deep ways of thinking, but new ways of thinking, focused around things like complexity, community and communication, related to the new world we find ourselves living in, rather than past times.

As I’ve suggested before, we urgently need to understand a lot more about the way in which people start to think and learn deep and wide from an effective mixture of horizontal Pot Google ‘information snacks’ and vertical five-GCSE Baccalaureate course ‘main meals’ as they gather and process information about the real and virtual world they live in.

Hmm – I think I’ll avoid the deep thought counter at M&S for now. Anyone else for some shallow Pot Googles?

* Those of you with the doubted privilege of an academic literary education will of course immediately recognise the reference in the title of this post to HG Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Or, like me, needed to look it up on Pot Google to discover:

‘that to babble about names that meant nothing was the proper use of speech. He called it “big thinks”, to distinguish it from “little thinks” — the sane everyday interests of life. If ever I made a remark he did not understand, he would praise it very much, ask me to say it again and again, learn it by heart, and go off repeating it.’

**Meanwhile those of you with an academic art history education will instead immediately recognise the photo at the top as an image of a human brain as portrayed by the 1960’s Pop artist Peter Max.

2 comments on “Little thinks or Big thinks?*

  1. A few years ago I got quite prickly when people started talking about “deep learning” (still not sure what it means) And if you can have deep thinking, I wonder what “deep doing” or “deep caring” are? Truth is I’m not sure it matters what you call things as long as you give young people some space and support to develop their own trajectory for deepness… I’m off to spotify to do some “deep (purple) listening” ahh smoke on the water the 3 chords that anyone can play…

  2. “THINKING! I didn’t get where I am today by thinking!”

    Quote from CJ, CEO of Sunshine Desserts in the original series of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

    Can’t we all just get on with learning and having fun exploring new things with the guidance of interesting motivated teachers instead of all this writing the process of thinking down and examining it till it’s dead?

    Sure, be inquisitive, ask questions, be original, creative and work out how things work or how to improve or adjust things. But to try and write down the processes of the thoughts themselves seems like another tick-box exercise for teachers and students to fulfil on their way to the ultimate answer. Forget Deep Thought, I give you The Earth and just get on with it instead of analysing everything too deeply.

    Millions of years of evolution to get to humans today and seemingly never before have our teenagers been more dissatisfied with what they have served on a plate. Too much thought analysis and not enough getting out there and discovering the real world. Maybe we should stop writing it all down and ticking the boxes that say “Yes, I examined my thought processes and they are the ones approved by the regulatory bodies that approve my progress and aptitude to analyse this thought process”. Where does it stop? All change please!

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