This morning I started my my quick second-reading of Alan Jacobs’s recent release, How to Think. Over the last two years, Jacobs’ voice has become one that I both enjoy and heed. While he doesn’t blog as much as I would like (and beggars can’t be choosers), I do find that what he does blog is always a good challenge.
In a lot of ways, How to Think reminds me of The Tech-Wise Family. Both are smaller books, quick reads, that present some very practical concepts and actions. Thinking, of course, is a broad and winding thing, so there are some differences. Jacobs, wisely so, begins with a quick definition-of-sorts for thinking:
This is what thinking is: not the decision itself but what goes into the decision, the consideration, the assessment. It’s testing your own responses and weighing the available evidence; it’s grasping, as best you can and with all available and relevant senses, what is, and it’s also speculating, as carefully and responsibly as you can, about what might be. And it’s knowing when not to go it alone, and whom you should ask for help.
Even in teaching circles, we often speak of thinking without necessarily defining it. And because we deal so often with propositional truth and “obvious” facts, thinking can come across as something like an unnecessary skill. But it is a process, one that too often occurs below the surface. And we would be wise to pay attention to how we have learned to do it.
The book’s introduction alone is full of nice gems. One other that stands out to me has to do with the academic environment, something close to Jacobs’s heart as a college professor for three decades. Jacobs asserts:
So, again, no: academic life doesn’t do much to help one think, at least not in the sense in which I am commending thinking. It helps one to amass a body of knowledge and to learn and deploy certain approved rhetorical strategies, which requires a good memory, intellectual agility, and the like. But little about the academic life demands that you question your impulsive reactions—
Once again, learning as an engagement with obvious facts is nothing like what Jacobs seems to hope for his readers and students. Knowledge is necessary for good thinking, the first step out of the door, really.
You can purchase your own copy of How to Think here or get it wherever great books are sold (though you may have to ask where to find it . . . at the local Barnes & Noble, it was placed in the “brainpower” section, which I didn’t even know existed).