How To Think

During rehearsal last night, I misremembered a quote in a TV news story. Here’s how I stated it, as a jumping-off point. “It’s not teachers’ job to tell us how to think.” That’s a misquote, but a useful place to start in discussing metacognition and the value of cognitive dissonance.

Here’s the letter I wrote late last night, correcting the quotation and expanding my thinking.


Just an update with clarification and a nod to B., who accurately remembered the quote from the TV story (I sadly misremembered and misstated the intent.) Here’s what the interviewee actually said:

“We are here to learn, not hear about what people think.”

Regardless of whether you agree with the meaning of that statement, it’s different than what I wanted to discuss, which is that I’m here to teach you how to think. It’s really the most sacred duty I have, and I think every teacher has: to teach students how to assimilate new information, recognize and correct bias, and expand their worldview when confronted with new information.

That is, how to think.

I teach it through music – whether it’s critical thinking about musical analysis, composer’s intent, phrasing, vowel shape, musical decisions, or larger philosophical questions. (Guess what? Tonight we thought as a group about each of those.)

I hope you leave every rehearsal having thought, and having gotten better at thinking.

I know most of you will not pursue a career in music (though I hope each of you keeps singing for the rest of your life). Why do I place importance on the music theory, the critical thinking, the pursuit of excellence, the rigors of musicianship? Not because I think you’ll necessarily use them, as such, in your career in law or medicine or real estate or elementary education. It’s because I think by approaching these questions with a seriousness of purpose, and honoring them with deep thought and respect, you will become better thinkers – and that cannot help but improve your future.

Of course, I do think you need to hear what I think. Not about politics, though–about music. And I need to hear what you think, too. We make our best music when we care and listen; and music is a subjective art, where what we think is front and center. (Algebra doesn’t care what you think; music does.)

Keep thinking. And keep getting better at it.