A Little Book of Thunks
By Ian Gilbert
Reviewed by Gareth Stevens
Increasing uncertainty, the exponential development of human knowledge and emerging technologies can make the world a perplexing place to live. Onetime iconic heroes are now vilified as villains. Leaders of the Free World decry the ubiquity of Fake News and yet revel in producing it themselves. Recent shocking referendum and election outcomes indicate that democracy is in crisis and old binaries are breaking down. If the modern world had a Facebook relationship status it would be ‘it’s complicated’! Never before has it been so important for us to be able to think effectively and to apply powers of discernment, yet it is far from being a priority in education.
Teachers and students are increasingly complicit in the hoop-jumping pursuit of marks and coursework completion that precludes any genuine debate or the systematic development of creative and critical thinking skills. Learning ossified and inert facts by discipline, rather than becoming adept at working through complex issues and solving problems that require combining understandings from a range of domains, remains the order of the day in our schools.
Enter Ian Gilbert and Independent Thinking. Founded over twenty years ago ‘To enrich people’s lives by changing the way they think – and so to change the world’, Independent Thinking Ltd has tirelessly striven to show that there is another way and that politically driven priorities in education are often nonsensical and self defeating. In 2007 Gilbert wrote a book called The Little Book of Thunks. Thunks are questions that look deceptively simple until you start to try and answer them. If you challenge young people to debate them, either as a parent or a teacher, they can confound and enlighten in equal measure. I debated with a group of 16 year-olds the question, ‘If private land is flooded and someone kayaks across it, are they trespassing?’. So rich and provocative was the ensuing discussion that it touched on subjects such as the relativity of language, deep moral questions to do with ownership and the fragility of the judicial system. Although Thunks were initially aimed at primary school children, I would argue that they can help students to reflect on the efficacy of their thinking skills at any age.
Some examples of my favourite thunks…
Is there more future or more past?
If you paint over a window, is it still a window?
If you could take a pill that meant you would never fail, would you?
If you read a paper in a shop without paying for it, is that stealing?
If a car breaks down, is it parked?
Sadly the implementation of thunks is rarely part of a strategic, connected and longitudinal approach to teaching thinking skills in schools. I fear that the use of this challenging approach to teaching and learning is often the exception rather than the rule.
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