I’m still working through Sternberg’s Thinking Styles. Elaborating on this concept, he cites an example of teaching in which the teacher quashed a student’s idea about how to develop the lesson in a different way (though not necessarily in a different direction) and examines the impact such practice could have on the student(s). Sternberg writes:
“Virtually all teachers operate under the same pressures: They need to teach to tests, and arguably, students who suppress their creativity will actually do better on most existing tests. The name of the test varies, but the fact of some test or another doesn’t. The teacher is trying desperately to get through a lesson; it is going slower than it was supposed to because lessons hardly ever go exactly the way they are planned. Something that was supposed to be clear isn’t, and a little more explanation is needed. Something else that was supposed to be easily explained isn’t. And soon a 30-minute lesson becomes a 40- or 50-minute one. Then a student suggests a way of making a lesson that is going too slowly go even more slowly. The teacher’s instantaneous reflex is to shoot a bullet – right through the student’s idea, but also through the student’s desire to be creative. The pattern repeats itself from time to time, place to place, and eventually that student, and everyone else in the class who gets to watch, learns to play by the rules and to hide or suppress their creative ideas.
Let there be no doubt that most children do learn in school (just as most people learn on the ob). But what do they learn? The most important lessons are often not those taught by the textbooks.
I have worked with both elementary-school students and with college students at Yale on developing ideas for experiments. The elementary-school students have an easier time of it. But when I ask the students to remember the details of or to critique already published studies – ones that are signed, sealed, and delivered – the Yale students win, hands down. The Yale students have developed the skills that schools value – the memory and analytical ones.
And what about the students who haven’t learned? They pay – one way or another. Some are viewed as annoyances, or worse, as behavior [-p.6] problems. Others are viewed as show-offs. Still others come to be labeled as antisocial, and in many cases, start to fulfill the role that is suggested to them. Some teachers will tolerate these children; others won’t. But few will appreciate them, because they disrupt what the teacher believes would otherwise be an orderly class. And orderly classes are easy-to-teach classes, whether students are learning or not.
Organizations other than schools are little or no different. An organizational culture emerges that does things in a certain way. It has worked before. There is competitive pressure from all sides, so there is hardly enough time to produce what needs to be produced, much less to think about how it is being produced. People who question the way things are done are usually not viewed as creative, but rather as disruptive.” (pp.5-6)
“There are two very general issues here….
1. Schools and other institutions, from households to businesses to cultures, value certain ways of thinking more than others.
2. People whose ways of thinking do not match those valued by the institutions are usually penalized.
A style is a way of thinking. It is not an ability, but rather, a preferred way of using the abilities one has. The distinction between style and ability is a crucial one. An ability refers to how well someone can do something. A style refers to how someone likes to do something.
In our society, we think and talk a lot about abilities.” (p.8)
“People need to find careers that match not only their abilities, but their styles as well.” (p.11)
“As a society, we repeatedly confuse styles with abilities, resulting in individual differences that are really due to styles being viewed as due to abilities. The result is that people whose styles don’t match the expectations of their parents, spouse or lover, colleagues, or boss are derogated for all the wrong reasons. What is seen as stupidity or intransigence may actually be nothing more than a mismatch between the style of one individual and the style of another. Such mismatches become particularly serious when they occur in school or work settings.” (p.12)
“Many of the students we are consigning to the dust heaps of our classrooms have the abilities to succeed. It is we, not they, who are failing. We are failing to recognize the variety of thinking and learning styles they bring to the classroom, and teaching them in ways that don’t fit them well.” (p.17)
Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine; italics in original) Robert J. Sternberg (c1997) Thinking Styles. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge