Friday, June 17, 2011

Seek dissent

Take a moment and watch this short video of author Tim Harford where he discusses how leaders need to learn how to establish a working environment where dissent is not only welcome but actively sought out.

The conclusion of Tim Harford's message is pretty powerful:

Seek dissent. It liberates the discussion.

The implications for education are many. As teachers, we have a responsibility to teach children to think for themselves, and that's why I proudly hang a sign in my classroom that says:

Think for yourself, your teacher might be wrong.
Regardless of our topic of the day, this sign often becomes a part of our discussions. I actively encourage students to share their thoughts, and if too many of us are agreeable too much of the time, I seek dissent. I challenge my students to find fault with the popular trends - I push my students to troubleshoot and play devil's advocate. In my classroom, learning is less about winning or being right and more about thinking critically and creatively in an attempt to make sense of the world.

For those who question why I focus so much on encouraging kids to express dissent (after all, it might be said that many adults spend their life trying to corral compliance from adolescents) I remind them of what General Patton once said:

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.
If we don't expect children to speak their minds and be honest, we run the risk of merely mandating optimism. In other words, sometimes when we ask for feedback, we really just want praise - and if we really believe in real improvement and innovation, we have to avoid this kind of pseudo-communication at all costs.

What's the best way to avoid this echo-chamber of obedience?

Seek dissent.


  1. Love this. As the kid in class who often had the dissenting opinion, I know what it is to quake in my shoes and answer with sweaty palms. More often than not, though, I simply never added my point.

    One of the most important things I want to teach my sons is critical, independent thinking, and the skills for presenting dissent with respect.

    Thanks for posting this video. He makes the point eloquently.

  2. Thanks Joe,

    "Children, like adults, need reassurance that it is all right to entertain and express highly subjective ideas, to treat a task as a problem, where you invent an answer rather than finding one out there in a book or on the blackboard." - Jerome Bruner

  3. Hi,

    Critical thinking is one part of thinking and can be an obstical to creative thinking. Edward de Bono says creativity Takes place where there is momemtum in thinking, it is the ability to explore and go forward with an idea, critical thinking is either I agree or disagree -static thinking

    My thinking is also influenced by CPS - collaborative problem solving , an approach to help challenging children. People genrally present their concerns as solutions. If we focus on concerns , we can usually find many alternate solutions that are mutually satisfying.



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