38 Years Later – Is Thinking A Dropout?
In 1975, Hans Furth and Dr. Harry Wachs published their construction of Jean Piaget’s theory in motion, in a book entitled Thinking Goes To School. As the title suggests, the book reviews different strategies for injecting thinking into everyday classroom activities, or what Wachs and Furth refer to as “games”, in an effort to stimulate thinking skills rather than answer skills. This thought is illustrated beautifully in this passage taken from the book’s introduction.
“In our philosophy, we make it clear that it is not the muscles or the senses that need training, but the thinking which controls specific muscle or sense activities. Body and sense games are planned to to exercise the developing thinking of the child; similarly drama or mathematical games are focused on the underlying social or mathematical thinking and not theatrical performance or the memorizing of mathematical rules. In other words, all games are done with the accent on thinking and not on performance. Children quickly get the message that what counts in the classroom is not an arbitrary level of performance but the overall atmosphere of being ‘as clever as clever’.”
Following the formal portion of a Vision Therapy presentation made recently to a group of educators, a sidebar developed and a discussion ensued on why Vision Therapy works. The bulk of the conversation dealt with the pieces of perception that vision touches more so than mere muscle strengthening and coordination. I shared a story that I heard Dr. Wachs tell once of how in his model of vision, he has 5 year old children flipping and rotating parquetry blocks and geoboards patterns. The goal of this process was to teach thinking – not answering – in a way that was fun and adventurous.
Vision Therapy, in most cases, is very process based. Process, process, process. How did we arrive at the answer? Never mind what the answer at which we’ve arrived shows, because at the moment, it’s irrelevant. What were you thinking and how did you solve this problem? Was your process sound even if your answer was undesirable? What would you like to change? Just like Wachs and Furth described “all games are done with the accent on thinking and not on performance.” This idea permeates into every Vision Therapy room, on some level. In a simplistic example, activities to improve fixation and saccades are activities that work on the process of reading, without regard to the product or quality of the reader at the moment. Earlier in the introduction, Wachs and Furth opine that “a child who does not have the habit of coordinating visual attention across a horizontal sequence should not have to acquire this coordination at the same time he is trying to learn to read” so that the process of coordinating visual attention horizontally is not connected to the product of reading quality. Provide them the skills they need, both mechanical and perceptual, to complete the process efficiently before asking for a product. Process before product.
Unfortunately, the model described in Thinking Goes To School is travelling further from realization, and closer to extinction. It simply doesn’t happen in many environments. Most educational models provide kids with an opportunity to memorize the answers – demands it really – without concern for showing their work. Forget the process, we need better products by any means necessary. The instant validation of quickly discovering “the right answer” has overtaken the slower, and perhaps less popular method, of taking your time and figuring it out.
How do parquetry and geoboards help with math and spelling? Maybe because they teach thinking. It’s not about the blocks or bands, it’s about understanding the challenge and thinking our way to an answer. Vision Therapy arms the student with strong thinking tools for solving any problem, not just those that appear on some standardized test. A model that Wachs and Furth so eloquently detailed as key to developing a solid student and a “knowledgeable and socially responsible adult“, and a model which cannot be allowed to continue to trend towards becoming a dropout. After all, some of the best answers are arrived at by mistake.
Process over product.