Habits of mindlessness (with all due deference to David Brooks*): A no-brainer

Though Deborah Meier's newest post on Bridging Differences is ostensibly about hypocrisy (she says she tells her left-wing friends that ?we should honor hypocrisy?), I was drawn to her reference to habits of mind.? The phrase is one of the most useful in understanding the huge responsibility of our public school system.? In fact, the epigraph I chose for my story on the Catalyst charter schools in Chicago is all about habits. It's from the Old Testament (Proverbs 22:6): ?Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.??

The power of a habit should be indisputable, but the nature of the habit, especially?a habit?of the mind,?is subject to some misdirection.? (Dare I remind our readers that drug addictions, etc. are also habits.)

Meier suggests a 2007 blog essay by Bruce Schauble (who says he is Director of Instruction at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii) as a good summary of the field; and I trust her judgment on this. Schauble reviews?Ted Sizer's habits of mind ? perspective, analysis, imagination, etc., -- and Meier's habits ? evidence, connections, viewpoints/cause and effect, etc. ? and those of Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, at the Institute for Habits of Mind ?? thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, managing impulsivity, gathering data through all senses, etc. ? but he leaves out Sizer's important introduction to the whole?subject:

Good schools are places where one gets the stuff of knowledge?that is, crudely, ?the facts? ?where one learns to use that stuff, and where one gets into the habit of such use.

Most of the modern purveyors of habits of mind forget the mind part; the habit of learning ?the facts? and using them.? And when Sizer says ?the facts,? he means it. He's not talking vague standards. ?A student learns the Bill of Rights,? he?notes in the very next sentence, ?what those constitutional amendments say, precisely, and what they meant at the time of their framing.? He learns then to use the Bill of Rights to understand past, present, and even possible situations.? ?Note his precisely.**

Even Sizer casts the other stuff ? perspective, imagination, etc. ? as ?skills.? And there is certainly nothing wrong with teaching them. But Sizer cautions (this is 1992), ?having the skills today is but a small part of the whole. Being committed to using them consistently tomorrow is the crux of it.?? Using them, he believed, to learn "the stuff of knowledge."

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?? The same way you get to college:? practice. ?And the best habit of mind that we can teach our children is that of learning and using ?the facts.??

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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*Who wrote, now famously, on January 17, ?Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls.?

**from Chapter 6, "Habits," in?Horace's School: Redesigning the American High School, by Theodore R. Sizer. Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1992. Pp. 68-9.

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