At the beginning of “Thinking in Education" Matthew Lipman addresses a number of worthwhile concerns regarding the current educational model. He recognizes that there are different views as to the function of education and schools and that there any several opposing viewpoints that express what the function should be. Some take the stance that schools are designed to make better future citizens, some contend that they should foster a sense of self-worth in a child and engage with their creativity, while still others insist that the school has been rendered almost useless because of the many conflicts that exist within the institution.
In this summary of “Thinking of Education” by Matthew Lipman, all of these ideas will be touched upon as in the book, Matthew Lipman offered some analysis of these many aspects that are having an effect on education and deciding what its modern function should be. The analysis of this book on educational theory will touch on some of the finer points in the context of “Thinking of Education".
In addressing these concerns in “Thinking in Education" Matthew Lipman comments on the fact that educational training and scholarship is confused as well, if not because of the varying debates on the purposes of education, but perhaps because of a general lack of consensus about what kind of education is most important or useful. He focuses our attention on “critical thinking" which has become the paragon for educational worth in the last few decades but still has yet to be fleshed out as a functioning theory. In “Thinking in Education" Matthew Lipman attributes the failure of the critical thinking approach to any number of causes, including the fact that it is too narrow of an approach to have any function, that it is even further frustrated by bad teacher preparation, and that it does not successfully integrate other, more creative aspects of education. No matter what the cause, it almost seems useless to bicker over it and instead to look for a more viable approach to education that is more inclusive and perhaps less restraining.
In his section of “Thinking in Education" entitled, “The Reflective Model of Educational Practice" Matthew Lipman explores some of the confusion that exists again, this time on a larger level. He argues that there is any number of hindrances education faces, especially since there is tension at so many levels—both institutionally and in the private sphere of the family. This public versus private tension results in great debates about the nature and function of education and yet despite the multitude of voices expressing an opinion, no consensus can be drawn. Added to these problems is the even more complex issue of the schools themselves as they get caught up in bureaucratic concerns and mini-power struggles. Administration, textbook publishers, teachers, and the system as a whole seem to working against education instead of for it and to make matters worse, teachers are not trained for these tensions but are rather given a philosophical education that leaves them ill-prepared. It is clear that Lipman sees the educational system in a state of complete chaos and with the points he has made about the many tiers of disorganization and entropy, it is almost impossible not to agree with him wholeheartedly.
According to Matthew Lipman in “Thinking in Education" he offers a summary of ideas about how these problems are not insurmountable. He offers the analysis in “Thinking in Education" that a school, if it is based in a functional brand of rationality to which the promotion and practice of reason is employed, can produce students that are reasonable. But then, doesn’t this make for children who lack creativity and isn’t this implied when Lipman states that the school is an institution (like the church or military) that produces a product for society? This is a sticky issue and Lipman’s short summary of an answer is that a school must not only be reasonable and rational, but must be “rationally defensible." This clarifies this issue because it states that there is a higher purpose behind the structure and the school can attest to what this is in a clear way. Again, there are numerous side debates that could emerge on either side of this question about a school based on rationality, but instead of dwelling on those, he moves on and explores a few more points to help us work out our own answer.
In “Thinking in Education" Lipman views the concept of “schooling without thinking" as completely contrary to everything education should be. It destroys creativity and the natural impulse to learn by constricting the young child. To illustrate his point, the author encourages us to consider the young child. While he or she is at home, the environment is conducive to learning, exploration, and the acquisition of language. The problem comes, however, when the child is placed into the rigid structure of the educational system. At this point, as one of the more important quotes in “Thinking in Education" by Matthew Lipman states, “what the child probably expects from the school is a surrogate home, a surrogate family—a surrounding that constantly stimulates thought and speech" (13). What the child finds goes against all of these natural impulses to learn (especially through experience) as he or she is forced into a routine—one based on schedules instead of narratives. The ultimate result of this educational experience is that the child begins to grow bored and uninspired with education and sees it more as a hindrance to his natural inclinations rather than a boost to his understanding and willingness to learn. According to Lipman in “Thinking in Education" , the solution is not to simply allow them vague periods of uninterrupted free play that would be similar to what they have at home, but rather to encourage them toward a “discovery process" (14) that is not based on dull sequence and facts, but rather moves forward like a narrative and thus allows them to understand structure on a level that is suitable and even pleasurable to them.
The ideas behind critical versus normal academic practice are essentially at odds with one another. For example, despite the vast amount of research that has been done regarding any number of educational ideas and theories, it is taken education nowhere since it merely seeks to defend old or new positions that have existed for some time now. There is little new that is arising to help teachers better employ reflective modes of education in their practice. Partly as a result of this, teachers are constantly finding themselves adhering to tradition-based approaches to teaching. The rewards for breaking tradition are not present and many efforts to do so go without validation (at least at the institutional level) because they do not catch on. The new paradigm must involve a massive shift from the normal practice to the critical and in order to bring about such change, there must be consistent reflection on practice. This should involve a constant valuation of the teaching of colleagues and the self and the emphasis must be put on the reflective style (which assumes that education is inquiry) instead of the standard practice (which does not contain that important aspect of questioning.) Furthermore, these same concepts should be applied to students as they should always be aware of themselves. Lipman is convinced of the importance of creating students who are autonomous, who think for themselves, and who are actively engaged in the process of education and inquiry out of genuine desire.
Lipman agrees with the Dewey assessment that the process of education should be like that which is applied to scientific inquiry. To take this scientific metaphor further, he also borrows the term “community of inquiry" when speaking of the ideal classroom. This should be an environment that fosters the innate curiosity and willingness to explore and learn. Furthermore, teachers should introduce questions and problems in the context of what is being explored that students are actively engaged and learning by this process of true inquiry. On top of this, the important concepts of judgment and relationships should also be addressed so that children form a basis of understanding that far exceeds simple fact-learning or, as Lipman puts it, “it is not enough to learn the events of history, we must be able to see and think historically" (24). It is this process of getting children to engage on a deeper level through the process of inquiry that will keep their interest and preserve the form it was in before school when learning was something natural and engaging. As part of this there must be a “conversational apprenticeship" that takes place—genuine and open dialogue between the community of learners and the teachers which will replace that same aspect at home and foster the tendency to learn with enthusiasm. Furthermore, this will produce autonomy—a sense of individual thought and the ability to think for one’s self. These are all important aspects to education that standard modes have overlooked. These are some of the most reasonable and practical thoughts about education that have been addressed thus far and unlike many other philosophical and vague approaches to teaching, these ideas could be employed immediately and debated later.