James Shelley has been doing some interesting writing, trying to wrestle with the difference between thinking and learning within a pedagogical setting. I think he gets close (“…synergy of thinking”), but then distracts himself looking for a difference that isn’t there, or that is so hard to see, you can’t look at these two things and their difference at the same time. He says:
To learn means that something that was not previously known to you becomes personal knowledge. It is like the internalization of something outside of yourself that existed prior to your comprehension of it.
But to think requires the manipulation of knowledge. Narrowly defined, perhaps we could equate it as thinking = knowledge+(creativity+criticism). Or: thinking produces knowledge, it does not merely absorb it from other sources.
Teaching, in Western culture, generally focuses on learning.
…If you could teach thinking, it wouldn’t be thinking anymore.
What I want to say in response to this is that thinking is learning to think. Here’s Heidegger discussing learning vs. thinking to his students in “What is Called Thinking?”:
We come to know what it means to think when we ourselves try to think. If the attempt is to be successful, we must be ready to learn thinking. As soon as we allow ourselves to become involved in such learning, we have admitted that we are not yet capable of thinking.
…In order to be capable of thinking, we need to learn it first. What is learning? Man learns when he disposes everything he does so that it answers to whatever essentials are addressed to him at any given moment. We learn to think by giving our mind to what there is to think about.
…By way of this series of lectures, we are attempting to learn thinking. The way is long. We dare take only a few steps. If all goes well, they will take us to the foothills of thought. But they will take us to places which we must explore to reach the point where only the leap will help further. The leap alone takes us into the neighbourhood where thinking resides. We therefore shall take a few practice leaps right at the start, though we won’t notice it at once, nor need to.
In contrast to a steady progress, where we move unawares from one thing to the next and everything remains alike, the leap takes us abruptly to where everything is different, so different that it strikes us as strange. Abrupt means the sudden sheer descent or rise that marks the chasm’s edge. Though we may not founder in such a leap, what the leap takes us to will confound us.
…This is why we are here attempting to learn thinking. We are all on the way together, and are not reproving each other. To learn means to make everything we do answer to whatever essentials address themselves to us at a given time. Depending on the kind of essentials, depending on the realm from which they address us, the answer and with it the kind of learning differs.
The trouble with thinking, learning, and the academy is that thinking requires “the leap,” and whether that leap is scientific, intellectual, or spiritual, it is damn near impossible to assess. We might agree that you have to get across the chasm, and that there are places where it’s harder or easier to make the leap, but it doesn’t mean that the place I choose will be good for you. There’s no way for me to productively essentialize the move that got me where you also need to get. If you do it right, you’ll respond to “whatever essentials address themselves to [you] at a given time.” That’s the exact opposite of a “steady progress” curriculum, the exact opposite of everything we do in a pedagogical setting.
James goes on to make a convincing case about the trouble the academy has dealing with something that can’t be measured, tested, and verified. Are we ready to give up assessment, and let learning go back to being about thinking? Are we willing to live with the leap in place of the guarantee?