A TED Talk reflection: How to Think, Not What To Think


We have expressed our concern and frustration toward the American schooling system numerous times on this blog, and our chief complaint predominantly deals with the schooling system’s inability to impart critical thinking abilities to the next generation. But not once have we addressed how to truly revolutionize our teaching or how to tackle this rampant problem. We have constantly reiterated the phrase, “teach kids how to think, not what to think”. Sadly, the latter is what is truly occurring, which utterly fails to equip the next generation. Even in high school, students are simply being presented information that they are expected to regurgitate mindlessly. Tests and quizzes are entirely hinged upon this flawed process. In addition to this, kids, adolescents, and adults alike have simply stopped thinking for themselves and resorted to Google for all the answers. My intent is not to antagonize technology or Google, but we are losing our critical thinking abilities as a society, which will ultimately hinder our ability to partake in rational inquiry and civil discourse. Thus, progress in academic disciplines will also be impeded. I have recently been inspired by a Jesse Richardson Ted Talk in which he addressed this very problem. In this post, I hope to outline some key information from his Ted talk and offer insights and reflections regarding the entire issue at hand. Before continuing, however, you may want to acquaint yourself with the issue, as we have written on it in the past. The following are two great articles to start out with.



Richardson started off the Ted talk asking the audience to reflect on their early childhood education. He inquired, “Can you remember a time you were actually taught how to think?”

Continuing, he noted that in his childhood experience, he never truly was. All they taught him was facts, figures, knowledge, history, and mathematics. They never taught him why or how things are the way they are currently, or why this number, when subtracted from another number, gave rise to a completely different number. He was never taught how to think abstractly, imaginatively, inquisitively, rationally, or skeptically. He even noted that this seemingly overlooked fact of education was “insane”, and rightly so.

“Now, as we all know, our world and our economy are changing, and rapidly. And how we approach education needs to adapt. What’s different about teaching children how to think, is that we are involving them in the process of their own learning. Instead of just telling them to memorize the right answer, we’re asking them to engage their own minds, their own awareness, by questioning things–attaining understanding, not just knowledge. And that involvement, that engagement, is so important because it keeps a spark of curiosity that so often dies.”

If done in this way, there is no need to force learning on kids. Kids will think on their own and be self-driven to acquire knowledge, instead of their current state of learning new knowledge by rote memorization. Kids are rejected their creativity and free thinking abilities through our expectation of them to regurgitate useless facts. If allowed, and actually taught, to question everything and understand things, then their capabilities are unlimited.

Creativity, curiosity, and questioning are what defines us as a species. Every discovery from every genius, whether Einstein, Van Goh, or Newton, involved asking questions, thinking freely and critically, possessing wonder, curiosity, and understanding. Kids no longer seek noble truths, but rather shallow, materialistic pleasures. Insatiable curiosity and wonder are scarce. Depressingly, this is what the education system beats out of kids. It robs humanity of future geniuses and innovators, future scientists and explorers, philosophers and politicians, historians and mathematicians. The ones who do become the revolutionary innovators are the ones that slipped through the flawed system unscathed, not the ones who were perfect products of the system.

The point of teaching kids how to think, according to Richardson, is to teach them how to be adaptive and how to innovate to solve problems. But creative thinking is only part of the process. We, as human beings, are prone to cognitive biases, prejudices, and we are also flawed, ignorant, and delusional. But, as Richardson states, these flaws of human nature can be surmounted. “What critical thinking teaches us is how to question things rigorously. How to form sound, well-reasoned, coherent thoughts and arguments… But perhaps the most important thing it teaches us, is that is good to be wrong. We can change our ideas, and it is liberating to do so.”

“If we are trained as critical thinkers, something significant shifts. We become aware of our own thinking. Why do I think this? How did I come to this conclusion? We become, quite literally, self-aware.”

Creative and critical thinking are two sides of a coin that are crucial to teaching kids how to think. When creative thinking and critical thinking are utilized in conjunction, amazing things happen. “Da Vinci moments are born from the cognitive alchemy of a mind that is free to plan and explore, but also disciplined to apply reason and rationality. And such a mind is a fortress of understanding. It’s largely impervious to the lies and the nefarious manipulations of politicians, the media, and the advertising industry.”

These are the minds that we need to craft in education. Through instilling imaginative creative thinking skills and inquisitive critical thinking abilities, we can truly reach the point at which kids are taught how to think. But how can these be implemented in school?

According to Richardson, it’s engagement. An education needs to engage students in ways that go beyond our current techniques. Kids love both interaction and narratives. Education is truly the cornerstone of society, so we should be striving to make it as engaging and effective as possible. We need the same rigor and investment in education that we put in advertising, sports, and other fields.

According to Richardson, we need to change our schooling system. “Why are we teaching kids what is on the periodic table of elements, but we are not really teaching them why science is really important, about philosophy of science, how to read journalism with a critical mind, about how taking evidence-based approaches help take us from the dark ages into this golden age of progress and technological wonder.”

We admonish students about following rules, but we do not teach them ethics. We don’t teach them how to understand and internalize the difference between right and wrong.

Finally, Richardson noted, “What if schools incorporated thinking as its own subject into their curricula? Is that such a crazy thought? What if we spent as much time teaching kids how to think for themselves as we do in English, math, or any other subject?”

Overall, teaching kids how to think will create a future full of progress, innovation, technology, and prosperity. Through engaging students in both creative and critical thinking based on logic, reason, and evidence, our species will truly flourish.

Author: Joe Schmid

Questions? Ask away at josephschmid4@gmail.com

Works Cited

Ted Talk by Jesse Richardson, URL: https://www.schoolofthought.org

This is not our own picture, and the website does not endorse ours in any way. There was one change made to this picture, and that was to make it smaller. It is found at “Wikipedia.org” URL:


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