MetaThought – An exploration of critical thinking in Palestine

Intern Alex and I are teaching TYO’s first Creative Thinking class this summer session. As has quickly been driven home, teaching here in Nablus demands you be adaptive and quick on your feet. I approached the challenge of a pilot class with vigor, enthusiasm, and the sort of ambitious idealism that only the slightly naive possess. One week later, pulled down from the clouds by two groups of very real 8-year-olds with 8-year-old attention spans, I am ready to reexamine this idea of critical thinking.

The thing is, we’re not so different – me and Ayman or Muhammad or Nirmin. We all, child and adult, American and Palestinian, have a propensity to follow the easiest form of logic. Our brains nestle into a pattern of thought like we nestle into our favorite spot on the couch. It’s an unfortunate reality – sometimes it’s just easier to hold our questions and go with the flow.

So how do we encourage inquisitiveness and brain teasing among children who have been taught to think in very linear ways? And how do we do it, when all they want to do is drop the puzzle, go outside and play soccer with Colin? I believe that the answer is closer than I may have originally thought.

Today, Alex and I were working on creating Tangrams, a puzzle of Chinese origin whose pieces can be rearranged to form nearly 6,000 different shapes. Curious, a few other interns floated over to our workstation and began tinkering around in an attempt to work out the most popular formation of the pieces – a perfect square.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds. I think it took me nearly a half-hour the first time, and that’s with a generous dose of rose-colored memory glasses. “This is so frustrating!” Tala exclaimed within minutes. Megan just stared at her amorphous blob and sighed, “I don’t have the patience for stuff like this.” As I watched (admittedly with a bit of smug amusement, as I had the solution memorized), I began to wonder how the students would react to being challenged with a puzzle that had stumped a roomful of college-educated adults, myself included.

I also realized that critical thinking can be as simple as reaching an incorrect conclusion, recognizing it, and then attempting to make it right. To that end, I will take my Tangrams into my class this week with an open mind and a rapid heart rate. Perhaps the students will grow tired of the exercise in mere moments. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ll see a problem, know that it has a solution, and work until they find it.

Happy thoughts!

– Amy

Amy is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.

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