When 2 + 2 Does Not Always Equal 4

Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) is an extremely engaging program when it comes to understanding the state of knowledge of the people in our country. And yet, the whole program is really only about memorizing and remembering facts and making educated guesses.
Unlike in the past, more and more today, when information is freely available at the touch of a mouse-click, the need to store data in our brains is becoming redundant. As I tell my students, it is not necessary to remember obscure facts anymore; as long as you know where to find the answers quickly and easily, that is good enough. What we need is the ability to think through the information available and to use it to answer the questions that we have in front of us, in the best possible manner. All of this requires the ability to think critically.
And sadly, this is an area where most of us fall short. While we are getting to be more and more literate, this does not seem to translate into our being able to analyze and critique situations and people around us or to be able to sift between fact and fiction when we read newspapers or watch television.
And yet without the ability to think critically, we become sitting ducks for those who want to influence us using false propaganda via popular media. One of the prime requirements of a leader is to be able to think and analyze critically and those who are able to do so successfully usually find themselves in such positions as well.
Three days ago, I was invited to listen to and comment upon presentations made by two groups of Class XI students of a South Mumbai IB school on the ethics of cloning and gender selection. The exercise was performed to initiate the students into the art and science of being able to critically analyze data and eventually use it to present various facets of the ethics related to these issues. Given their age and the milieu the students come from, they did quite a good job.
The vast majority of our schools however still only encourage students to memorize facts and to regurgitate them when asked. And while many schools now encourage project-based learning, none of these allows a student to learn how to think, critique and analyze. And very rarely do we find teachers who encourage students to question every fact and assumption that they are being forced to believe, simply because our curricula just do not allow us the luxury of time needed to inculcate these beliefs into our students.
It is when we realize why 2 + 2 is not always 4 that we start thinking critically.
I am borrowing heavily from an article written by Clifford Levy in a recent issue of the New York Times, where he quotes Georgievich Bogin, who runs a school called the New Humanitarian, in Moscow. While two apples and two oranges add up to four pieces of fruit, two cats and two sausages only add up to two well-fed cats. And if you take two drops of water in a saucer and add two more drops of water, you really only get, one big fat drop of water. It is this ability that allows us to then answer the riddle of how many of ten birds are left on a tree after a hunter shoots one.
The information age is drowning us with facts and “knowledge”. It is now even more important than ever before that we learn to step back and “think” and “analyze”.

3 Comments

  • spot on. Thinking rationally vs memorizing the latter is easier for the child/parents and the teacher. My cousin the Dean in and IIT used to say, if they allow us to change the question paper patterns, I will get more problem solving youngsters.But they could not, hence Kota etc are thriving.

  • Yes i totally agree with you. Recently my 15 yr old sister had to give a speech in school as a part of the internal assessment. She was been given 5 topics. The day prior to the speech-delivery, she approached me to help her for the write up so that she can by heart and recite it the next day. So, this is what happened. I wrote the whole speech and she just memorized and delivered it. Here, the idea of ‘think-critique-analyse’ wasn’t applied. This is what is happening with majority of the students. For the craze of scoring marks easy at hand, they take help of others and they themselves never take the pains for self-knowledge.

  • Contextual thinking is the gift of God to human being, but current teaching methods are leading to diminishing of this gift. There is information overload and this leads to failure to connect the dots, too much information without relevance leads to chaos in brain. Wisdom is more important then cramming of gigabytes of information in brain, in fact we do not have to cram this information at all in brain now that we can have this at touch of finger in many devices available now.

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