“to know is not enough” – Study Skills & Critical Thinking Class

The overarching expectations behind this class are quite philosophical. If you learn to learn in a way that you love, that will help facilitate finding out what you love, and if you discover what you love to do, then the rest will follow in a way that is empowering, innovative and socially responsive. That is why, as I understand it, discovering what you love to do in life is a core intention of Brockwood.

In being encouraged to be self-reflective learners, students engage with their learning in such an active way that they start to appreciate that “to know is not enough”, and that this is true in two interrelated ways. Indeed while the two are connected, students begin to be able to distinguish between the outer knowledge of the world and the inner knowledge of themselves. One of the points is for them to see that in both cases knowledge is constructed and must therefore be critiqued as such.

'to know is not enough'
I first engaged with Hampshire College’s motto, “to know is not enough”, a little over 10 years ago at Hampshire where I did my BA and where it originated around 1965. I am using this dictum here in a way that is partly faithful to its original technical interpretation. I am also intentionally departing from it by displacing it into a psychological reading, thus I believe enhancing it, by bringing it in the new context of a Krishnamurti school.

In terms of outer knowledge this materialises in students realising for themselves that to learn content knowledge without knowing how to apply it is not enough. When it comes to inner knowledge and its direct link to outer knowledge, the more subtle point, which I have nevertheless seen more and more students understand, is that to know something psychologically, say one’s fear in learning, does not suffice in making one change. Indeed to know is not enough, we must act out of being critically engaged with that fear.

Practically speaking, the aim of the course is to teach students the kind of study skills and critical thinking necessary to be a successful, free, lifelong learner. Many of us go through school without ever having been taught how to study, how one’s brain processes information, how and why it remembers certain things and forgets others. So students learn how to do mind mapping in order to organise their studying, they learn the art of asking meaningful potent questions so that they make the material theirs. They also learn how to read books faster, time management skills, how to take notes etc., but perhaps the most important of all: writing.

The goal is to assist students with the kind of writing they need for their exams. Most commonly students need help learning analytical and argumentative writing. No matter the kind of writing, however, students learn how to structure an effective essay; how to write an outline, an introduction, a conclusion, and clear paragraphs. In a very real sense, writing is the challenge where many of the things they learn in this class comes together and where their thinking can come to fruition. It is a great medium for them to learn the art of critical thinking, which unlike traditional definitions, is not taken in this class to be a skill to be applied. Because it would be a mistake for students who are attempting to be critical, to see themselves as fundamentally separate from the object of their critique. Critical thinking is instead the art of reflectively being critical of both the object and the thinker, in order to create a relationship to the topic that is critical.

In this way, students not only become methodical about their studies, alleviating a lot of the fears and anxiety that are typically associated with studying but they learn to varying degrees how to establish meaningful, constructive, and yet critical connections. The classes are interactive and all students bring the homework they want to work on, for which they get individualised help and attention, which is clearly one of the appeals for them. Yet the reasons why the class has been growingly popular is multifaceted. They also like coming to a place where the atmosphere is studious, another important aspect include the flexibility of how long they can stay studying something at their own pace (up to 2 hours and sometimes more). It tends to take some time for students to get in the zone of learning, and often by the time they reach that point, it is time for them to go to a different class.

In a similar fashion as a laboratory, the focus is not on lectures, although there are some targeted ones at times for specific skills or knowledge content, but the point is to reduce those and to guide students to become an engaged learner by putting more responsibility for learning on them. To a certain degree the role of the teacher changes and becomes more that of a facilitator of learning and academic advisor than an all-knowing authority. This allows for richer interdisciplinary work to happen, especially through the peer-to-peer work that is easily facilitated with this approach.

In conclusion, the focus of this class is clearly more on learning than on exams, even though the rationale is twofold. To be a support for exam classes, both psychologically and academically, but also to show students that when these two are integrated, learning is made more exciting because it brings together as a whole the inner and the outer. At that point, taking an exam is a good option, but by no means the only one; what matters first is that the learner has become critically engaged with learning. In the ongoing process of Brockwood’s constant efforts to improve its academics it has been a fascinating dialogue to participate in during my first year as a teacher there. I am curious to see where our exploration of bringing the emotional and the intellectual together even more than we teachers already do will take us. After all, it goes to the heart of what Krishnamurti wanted for his schools, and at least based on this class, it makes for good teaching practice too.

By Lionel Claris, former Brockwood student, now staff

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