Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Teach your child how to think

I've been meaning to comment about a book I read recently, it's an old book by Edward de Bono, called Teach your child how to think. Mr. de Bono is a fairly known "thinking" teacher, with several famous techniques (like the six hat reasoning system). I was able to get this book second-hand, so I gave it a try. As most books by de Bono, it's thin, and can be a quick read.
My value thinking at the end of the read is very ambiguous. I loved the book and I hated the book. I will try to express the pros and cons of the book in a more detailed fashion, that hopefully will be more helpful for any prospective reader. I will start with the cons.
First, you have to realize that the "kids" part of the title is a partial misnomer. It is not directed to the kids, but to the adult member of the family. He obviously gives a small introduction where he talks about how to use the book more effectively depending on the age of the child, and how to go through the examples with your child, but after this he "forgets" the focus on the child part, concentrating only on the tools and mechanisms of thinking, but in a decidedly adult pedagogical style. His examples on how to use the thinking tools are clear (most of the times), but their are not focused on children experience, so you are given the task to adapt this to your child. I don't think the loss of focus in children is detrimental, and he tells you very early that it's NOT for teaching very young children, instead he wants you to use his book when the child is able to construct abstract thinking processes (around 7 or 8 years or older). The advantage is that probably you as an adult will use and benefit from what he is postulating without feeling that the author is condescending to you, a problem that plagues a lot of the books that are directed to/made for children.
Second, this is a book to read with an open mind. If you have a thought process pattern already, you may get "mad" at the way de Bono exposes his ideas, mainly the organization of the book. He, in what I consider is a very interesting approach, starts describing the "tools" that he considers are necessary for developing your thought process, but does not give you any structure on how to apply each tool (although he gives you plenty of exercises to do with each tool), even suggesting that you can use them separately or in combination. If you are an adult, and you have acquired already a thought process pattern, you may find this shocking (i know I did), and a little bit irritating. But I would recommend you to keep on reading, as he will coalesce these tools in certain types of structure where they are more orderly placed, which permits you to get the "bigger" picture of his methodology.
Third, it is an uneven book. de Bono explains multiple thinking tools, but the detail that he offers for each one is very erratic, to the point that in some tools he actually forgets to give an accurate description of them!(the APC tool comes to mind) Most of his thinking tools are straightforward, but there is a lot of overlap between them. I don't consider redundancy a problem in thinking, as it tends to give you a more solid thought process, but his overlapping tools tend to use the same initial information and process them with almost the same approach, so it's repetitive instead of redundant. It gives you the feeling that certain of this tools were developed before he created others that are significantly more powerful, making the original worthless, but he never took them out of the book. This seems to be the case with his six hat thinking process. Obviously his most developed technique (he actually has written a book only about this), you can see that multiple of his smaller tools are simply partial aspects of this megatool. He explains that you may decide to use whichever tool you like the best, but due to the overlap, several of them have no enticing reason to use them, and gives you more mental clutter that obstruct adequate mental organization of the tools.
Fourth, Mr. de Bono has a very particular style of writing. If you have read other of his books, you may already know this, but he is a very forceful "seller" of the de Bono "concept". He will always mention his qualifications for writing a book on this topic, with all the projects that he has created or helped/counseled in. I understand perfectly why he would do this from the commercial standpoint, as he wants to demonstrate a good reputation, and also from the psychological perspective, as we tend to disagree less and accept more what somebody that is successful tells us. But after a while it gets somewhat heavy to read those detailed descriptions as they don't give you any benefit for your thinking process and they don't advance the concepts in the book
Fifth, there are some thinking errors in some parts of the book, that even if they don't detract from the general point, they invalidate some of his conclusions. His chapter of logic and perception is slightly unfair toward logic, as he is applying what he thinks logic "is" to domains of reality where it should not be applied, at least not in the form he is referring to, something that he does again in his chapter about Truth, logic and critical thinking. He also seems to be unaware that logic as a "thinking" discipline has more than one form or mechanism, and that he doesn't take in account some other subtheories of logic, like paraconsistent logic, that is designed to deal with inconsistencies (a fault that he attributes to "logic" as a whole). This is probable the point where I was disenchanted, as he seems to construct a straw man of logic, and afterwards he proceeds to fight against this misconception of logic. He also tends to correlate his success as a propagator of his ideas to the correctness of them, and this is obviously an erroneous thought pathway, that you can see repeated several times in the text.
Sixth, the book it's mostly expositional, he "tells" you which tools there are, how to use them, but he doesn't go very much on the underlying thought process mechanism that explain why you can/should use the tools that he is suggesting. This doesn't really affect my general appreciation of the book, as he is a very practical type of author, and in this case he may not want the explanations to interfere with the flow of the book.

What about the pros?
First, it's a short book. I don't say it in a derogatory fashion. It's short because he focuses on his main point in a very efficient way. Besides his self promotion tangents, he does not drift from the main topic. So it makes for a very dense book of ideas, a very refreshing change from the 1000+ pages that other thinking experts publish.
Second, it's a practical book. He suggest multiple exercises to use each one of his tools, and even if they may be overlapping, he is able to find examples where you can apply each tool separately. I think this is the strongest feature of the book, and where he demonstrates his genius. Multiple thinking books are better at explaining the origins of the thought processes, but fall flat on their faces when trying to make something directly useful to the reader. de Bono makes sure at all times that his readers will learn something, and gives straightforward directions on how to use his examples (or create new ones from his guidelines)
Third, it's a book that maintains its value. Due to the fact that he gives you the tools and not only rambles around (yes, like I tend to do...I'm thinking about how to fix that!), he is eminently re readable. And for a learning to think book, that is one of the main characteristics, as you can't learn it all at once.

You may see this book commentary and say that the book has more bad points than good ones, but in general I would say that the weak points are smaller in breadth and applicable to smaller portions of his general argument, while the good points are sufficient to carry the book to a very good level.
My final thought about the book: Read it...several times. For yourself and for your kids.
And now it's time to think another thought

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