Do you stir dull roots in your students?

“Hello Roger, Attached is my Errors of Perspective assignment.  I enjoy your class immensely because it challenges my deepest thinking where my passion is.  This passionate thinking will enhance my degree which is technology.  Thank you. Best Regards,” Chris

This unsolicited comment made by a student in my on-line Ethics class stirred my dull roots and helped me remember a poem by T.S. Eliot which is certainly timely as the snow swirls and twirls, so much so that school was formally closed today – a rare day indeed.

As T.S. Eliot reminds us in his poem, The Waste Land: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering earth in forgetful snow, feeding a little life with dried tubers.”

Another student’s dull roots were stirred by an assignment in my thinking critically and creatively course – the students were challenged to write a critical analysis on “Being a critical thinker.”  I liked Daniel’s final sentence: “Finally, school, ‘DEAR GOD, SCHOOL’, becomes a dumping ground for facts and tactics, but NOT a place to share ideas and grow your own thoughts as a person. The applications are never ending, and the benefits are life-long and too great to pass up.”

Become a Critic of Your Thinking Analysis —

(with his permission to share) Daniel Graziano wrote:

“It is no surprise to me that we, as people, tend to not think as effectively as we say we do. Our reactions are reflexive. We form our understanding based upon knee jerk, emotional reactions for which we have no real means of combating or adjusting.

Well…the untrained of us do anyway.

Seldom do we take a pick and sander to our thinking. It feels too much like work, and not the fun kind of work. It’s a picking of our own minds, and the flaws we have hidden ourselves from that we would rather forget ever existed. But what do we lose when we do not understand our mental processes? More importantly, what do we gain when we take the iron to the grinding wheel and evaluate and refine our mental habits? We gain a new, almost wondrous view of the world. Information stops being a collection of neat tidbits of knowledge, and starts serving as tools, and supports for the pursuit of truth and understanding. They are a sword against deception, a shield against fallacies, a first aid-kit for logical injuries, and a map for enlightenment and understanding the world around us. That’s what Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul said. They aren’t wrong when they wrote:

‘There is nothing more practical than sound thinking. No matter what your                 circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled. As a manager, leader, employee, citizen, lover, friend, parent — in every realm and situation of your life — good thinking pays off. Poor thinking, in turn, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, engenders         frustration and pain.’  (

Think back to the times you made an egregious error, or did something incredibly stupid in your youth. Remember your parents standing over you and muttering the iconic phrase “what were you thinking?!” The entire paragraph outlines the value and application of thinking of thinking; not just thinking, but thinking CORRECTLY. We accomplish this by becoming a critic, and the harshest critic, of our thinking.

Good news, the process is easy to follow, but it takes months upon months, and even maybe YEARS of constant application to master. The process is asking questions to yourself like: “What is really happening in the situation?”; “Does the person in question want to take advantage of me?”; “Do I really believe what they’re saying to me?”; “Am I lying to myself when I say I do?” and so on.  Luckily, there is no shortage of instances in which one can practice and master these skills.

Vincent Ryan Ruggiero also offers a processes and techniques to analyze and respond to information in his book “Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking.” He offers strategies very early on. He suggests preparing before hand, if you can, leave your personal agendas behind, actively listen, and resisting the urge to interrupt. All of these tactics contribute to a sharpening of the mind, and creates a more receptive environment mentally for understanding.

What makes becoming critical of your own thinking so valuable is the constant and immediate benefit of perfecting these techniques. Arguments with significant others become easier to navigate and resolve. Difficult work situations boil down to one or two questions that need to be answered. Finally, school, “DEAR GOD, SCHOOL”, becomes a dumping ground for facts and tactics, but NOT a place to share ideas and develop your own thoughts as a person. The applications are never ending, and the benefits are life-long and too great to pass up.”


How do you stir dull roots in your students?  Try these:

Clarify your thinking

Leave your personal agendas aside

Stay focused

Actively listen

Resist the urge to interrupt

Ask questions and question your questions

Be reasonable

Seek resolutions

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