Issue 27 / July - September 1999
Educating Our Minds
We can build a strong, healthy, and well-formed body through body-building exercises. This raises the following question: If we can "educate" our body through relatively simple body-building exercises, can we "educate" our mind through some mental exercises?
Alexander Graham Bell, the famous inventor and scientist, mentioned three rules designed to keep people mentally young, alert, and strong. These are: observe, remember, and compare. Following these easy rules shows us how to build our perceptions, sharpen our intellect, and discover new ways of thinking. The first step is to observe concrete facts that can be found all around us, the second step is to remember the observed facts, and the third step is to compare them and formulate conclusions. As Bell said: "These conclusions are real knowledge, and they are your own."
These three simple rules always keep our brains busy and alert, lead us to think and become aware of the facts around us, and help us make connections between these facts that will take us to real knowledge. Human beings are the only creatures who can think and who are always trying to acquire more knowledge. Dr. Kopil states that only man makes his own history by using his free will in conjunction with his knowledge. In humanity's attempt to deal with the difficulties of the surrounding world, many men and women have used their minds and their search for more knowledge to make many inventions and discoveries. Today, men and women still struggle to give shape to the world by pursuing knowledge. In the words of Dr. Bell, who changed the faith of the world with his works and inventions: "The great advantage in pursuing knowledge is that we may capture something that will contribute to the welfare of the world." The essential point is to use the power of the mind to bring safety and happiness to this world. Dr. Mahmud states that this is possible only by mental and spiritual purification. When the power of knowledge is used for other purposes, it often leads to dangerous and embarrassing results.
Dr. Bell gives us detective stories as an example, and asks us: "What is a detective story, if it is not a record of observing, remembering, and comparing facts and of then drawing conclusions?" Let's put ourselves in place of detectives. Our first and most important goal is to be aware of the facts around us, to pursue that knowledge which will lead us to the best solution. We need to remember each clue we collect, and to make sure that we do not miss a single detail. At the end, we will find ourselves trying to draw the correct conclusion by comparing all of the knowledge that we have gathered. It is easy to reach conclusions from established facts. But what is important for us is to reach our own conclusions by thinking, asking, evaluating, and keeping our minds busy and alert-just like detectives. I think this gives us more satisfaction and pleasure than having answers just given to us free-of-charge.
It is also necessary to emphasize the mental education of very young children. Dr. Caprio states that knowledge is not objective and does not have an absolute structure. What we know and understand is only our perceptions of reality. The essential thing is not to tell children things directly, for this might kill the child's imagination, creativeness, and, most important of all, the mind's power to think. Instead, encourage them to discover things for themselves. Asking them questions is alright, but also encourage them to find the answers themselves. Dr. Wood claimed that knowledge is the product of active construction, which we make and share with others. According to Dr. Bell, if children arrive at the wrong answer, do not give them the right answer and do not tell them that they are mistaken or wrong; rather, ask other questions to help them realize their own mistake and push their inquiry further.
Dr. Bell gives us several examples: "Suppose you wanted to teach a child about moisture and condensation. You should state to him that there are minute particles of water vapor in the air exhaled from the lungs, and that this water vapor will be condensed under certain conditions."
In the first example, you did not allow your child to discover the fact and to reach his or her own conclusion, whether it is right or wrong. However, you gave the general conclusion or an established fact and asked the child to memorize it. You did not encourage your child to think, understand the facts, and reach his or her own conclusions. You gave the child the answer without requiring any effort on his or her part.
"Now suppose you tell him nothing, but simply ask him to breathe into a glass tumbler. He sees the moisture on the glass. Ask him where it came from. Have him breathe against the outside of the tumbler. Have him try the experiment with a glass that is hot and with one that is ice-cold. Have him try it with other surfaces. Do not do his thinking for him. Make him observe what takes place, stimulating him to remember the different results he observes and, by comparing them, to arrive at conclusions."
The second example shows us that parents should be guides for their children. Be patient and let them make the observation. Let them do their own thinking, which will enable them to reach their own conclusion.
It is a well-known fact that we use only a fraction of our brain's potential power. Moreover, we are not sure how far our minds can go. However, what we know for sure is that we can stretch our mind's capacity and increase our brain's potential power. I will end my article with Dr. Bell's words: "Self education is a lifelong affair. It comes, naturally and inevitably, through using the mind and following this Rule of Three: Observe, Remember, Compare."
1. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, "Alexander Graham Bell," Association review (Washington, DC: 1899).
2. Caprio, In Steffe, L. P., and Gale, J., Constructivisni in Education ( Lawrance Erlbaum: 1995)
3. Kopil, Alexa., " Is the Brain the Origin of Man's Mind?" The Fountain vol. 2., no.21 (Jan-Mar.1998).
4. Mahmud M. Sadat., "Thinking Straight and the Ways to Achieve It" The Fountain vol. 2., no.24 (Oct-Dec.1998).
5. Wood, T. "From Alternative Epistemologies to Practice in Education: Rethinking What It Means to Teach and Learn." In Steffe, L. P., and Gale, J., Constructivism in Education (Lawrence Erlbaum: 1995).