The Case For More Free Thinking in Our Classrooms

Things that keep teachers up at night - the untapped potential of our students (en masse).

Every teacher knows the familiar cluster of youngsters, lightning fast in their quick responses, thoughts and opinions, attention grabbing, and hard to miss. Such students’ enthusiasm is commendable yet making them more likely to be called upon over others who may have more subtle styles of expression. This speaks to a default educational system that rewards speed and accuracy (especially in measures both mathematical and linguistic) above all else, at the sacrifice of innumerable other student potential contributions and illuminations.

There is much talk about how to move 21st Century education forward. In the wake of omnipotent testing that is both frequent and narrow in scope, there is little space for depth, complexity and creativity. Teachers are pressured to raise test scores in order to pay homage to accepted norms of intelligence and success.

The more I read about the automation of certain labor sectors and subsequent work force atrophy, my fears are allayed by the call to incorporate learning through the Four C’s - Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Cooperation. According to the National Organization of Education’s Educator Guide, “It is clear that the “Four Cs” need to be fully integrated into classrooms, schools, and districts around the country to produce citizens and employees adequately prepared for the 21st century.” (http://www.nea.org/tools/52217.htm)  Why then are we NOT attempting to encourage and find measures of creative or divergent thinking if this is what our future workforce will demand?

The World Economic Forum has a captivating video that describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution as the following, “...a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” (https://youtu.be/kpW9JcWxKq0) It calls upon us to encourage more free thinking in the classroom.

The following needs to be addressed if we are to advance as needed.

  • Teaching subjects and disciplines not in isolation but integrated (much like real life where solutions often lie beyond the boundaries of convention, such as within hybrids and morphings of objects and ideas).

  • Resisting the perpetuation of narrow definitions of intelligence.

  • Not succumbing to the dominant testing culture that leaves little room for teachers to exercise their passion to teach (teachers need to model the pursuits of creativity and authenticity in their words and actions within the classroom).

  • Re-calibrating how we view students in our ‘stand alone, stand out’ type of classroom culture.

  • Leveraging teachers over politicians and business people so that they have a full say in how schools and classrooms function and what and how things are valued (or not valued).


It’s time to start thinking well beyond proverbial box, and embrace divergent thinking in order to begin to solve some or our biggest educational challenges. In fact, the revolution of thought and understanding within the human brain is well overdue. This is not a luxury as our future depends upon its evolution. We need to inform the dimly lit recesses of our collective understanding of cognition, metacognition and the endless pursuits of how best to encourage and measure it. We need to start with ourselves and look beyond what is both obvious and mundane. Let teachers be the needed voice in moving this important work forward.