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From The Editor

| November 16, 2017 | 0 Comments

Mark Smith is a researcher and educator
based in London in the UK. He’s deeply
interested in how – throughout the ages –
great thinkers have thought about schools
and schooling.
Of the ancient philosopher Aristotle (384-322
BC), Smith says: “First, his work is a testament to the
belief that our thinking and practice as educators must
be infused with a clear philosophy of life… We have
continually to ask what makes for human flourishing.”
In 1637, René Descartes contributed to the
conversation with the controversial statement “I
think, therefore I am”, in his Discourse on the Method.
In 1765, in praise of Descartes, Antoine Léonard
Thomas created the “cogito”, in the Latin, “dubito, ergo
cogito, ergo sum” (I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I
These great men shared a common view: that
learning is about consistent enquiry – not only about
facts and issues in the society, but also about how we
make those enquiries.
From the 19 th century onwards, the waters
became somewhat muddied as those in charge of
schooling the youth became obsessed with standards
and assessments. The popular musician, Paul Simon,
put it thus on his album Graceland, “I know what I
“Ah, but how do you know it?” Aristotle,
Descartes and Thomas would have asked.
ISASA’s executive director, Lebogang Montjane,
has some insights for those who pepper their
conversation with the term “critical thinking” without
putting it into practice in schools. Says Montjane on
page 12 of this edition of Independent Education,
[The] age of artificial intelligence is going to
have major implications for education…
[Because of ] artificial intelligence, facts are now
available at the click of a button or by posing a
question to a machine. The result is that human
content “experts” are under threat, thanks to the
information overload that is the worldwide
web. This means that, increasingly, we are going
to have to teach students to be critical thinkers.
Montjane goes on to explain what this means by
drawing on the words of Nancy Chick, assistant
director at Vanderbilt University’s Center for
Teaching in Nashville, Tennessee:
Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about
one’s thinking. More precisely, it refers to the
processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s
understanding and performance. Metacognition
includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking
and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and

This edition of Independent Education proves that
teachers in ISASA schools are now starting seriously
to incorporate metacognition into their classroom
practice and interpersonal dialogues. On page 28, for
example, in part one of a fascinating article entitled
“The opportunities and challenges facing
independent schools – South Africa 2017: a view
from St Stithians College”, rector Tim Nuttall
challenges all schools to think about three questions:
How clearly does a school understand its reason
for existing, and how well is this expressed in a
statement of intent and purpose? Does the
statement of purpose and intent contextualise
the school in and for South Africa’s (and
Africa’s) present and future? How far is there
alignment between the statement of purpose
and intent, on the one hand, and the daily life
of the school? How are words on the page and
expressed principles lived out in practice?
On page 68, Fulvia Stolz, digital communication
assistant at Dainfern College in Johannesburg,
Gauteng, looks at metacognition from a more
practical angle. She tells the story of a teacher
resuming her career after a 12-year break. Upon
entering her classroom, the teacher thought with
dismay, “School classrooms haven’t changed. They
look the same as they did in the 1920s! We should be
concerned, because the antiquated classroom space
has a serious impact on the child, and his ability to
learn and become a critical thinker in the 21st
century.” Her thoughts about learning and thinking
have seen the birth of flexible learning spaces at
The best book I have ever read about thinking,
learning and teaching, and which I advise every
teacher to procure, is called Provocations: Philosophy
for Secondary School (PSS) by David Birch (Crown
House: 2014). It comprises talking about four
subjects – the world, the self, society and others – and
makes me believe that every school should, like the
ancients, include philosophy as a core curriculum
In his preface to PSS, author Birch says:
The approach to education advocated in
this book is not one based on teaching but
listening; listening neither to console nor
redeem, but to crack things wide open…
it seeks to enlarge the inner-light, that source
of shifting conviction… questions take on a
life of their own. The teacher is in no position
to be conclusive, the subject is predicated on
mutual wonder, confusion is its currency of
exchange. Philosophy is a way of relearning

Category: Summer 2017

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