My wife and I had our six best friends over for dinner last night, and we got into an interesting discussion about the value of original thought. Our concern was that kids today are not learning how to be critical, creative thinkers despite the fact that original thinking is probably the most crucial work skill in the 21st century.
Our generation was better prepared for inventive thinking, and most of the lessons were learned during our ample free time, unsupervised by adults. We picked our own teams, refereed ourselves, solved our own disputes, took risks and stretched ourselves and learned our limits. We rummaged around for materials to build forts, tree houses, and go-carts. Kids traded baseball cards and marbles, and most of us had jobs in the real world before puberty had even hit. And from this we learned to take initiative, become self-directed, express creativity, and to think for ourselves. Today’s kids are constantly busy and being supervised by adults, missing out on the training that was so vital for us.
Original thought also derives from having an uncluttered mind, something most kids don’t have much experience with today. We value multi-tasking way more than one-pointed attention. And a brain that is continually being barraged with noise and distractions from electronics never experiences the quiet solitude needed for deeper thinking, assimilating ideas, and bringing forth novel ways of thinking and doing things. Texting and social network communications can never take the place of real-time, face-to-face interactions. There is a richness and depth of connection missing for young people today, and it is contributing to their inability to sustain deep focus and conversation. And depth and innovative thinking goes out the window along with it.
We have got to both value and teach kids how to slow down, get calm, unplug from all the noise and distractions, and learn to enjoy being alone and quiet. This is the breeding ground for reflection, daydreaming, soul-searching, and creativity. And this in turn is a prerequisite for the development of original thought.