Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Common Sense

What is common sense?  Can it be learned, or is it something that just comes naturally to some people?  Common sense usually comes across as a simplified, straightforward approach, without the use of elaborate reasoning, statistics or facts.  Common sense is more of a "gut" response than something thought through.  Children often display a remarkable capacity for common sense.  Anyone who has been around children probably has a story to tell about how they come up with solutions, make wise observations, or react to situations with more common sense than most adults.  Could common sense be a capacity with which we are born, but over time are taught not to use, especially through formal education and the media?  

Formal education does not seem to foster common sense approaches or responses. Education often has all of the questions and answers figured out ahead of time.  Did you ever read or have to respond to those dumb questions at the end of chapters in text books? There is also a lack of common sense in standardized testing, which is often the main, or only, gauge of students' abilities.  In fact, possible common sense “answers” from creative students (ones who don't think in straight lines) may also be valid, but are considered “incorrect.”  Students have to be "trained" to take these tests and to use certain strategies which help them score better on the tests.  This means our children have to learn how to take the tests and give the answers already decided upon as the only correct ones, instead of being encouraged to use or being rewarded for using common sense.  Such practices diminish the capacity for common sense, and essentially teach what to think, not how to think.

One might also consider the media's role in deleting common sense forever from our menu of options. The daily and relentless news tips regarding medicine, food, diets and lifestyle create a complex, confusing and contradictory landscape of possible panaceas, or disasters waiting to befall us.  In addition, the so- called reality shows have people wading in sewage, eating maggots, and, maybe soon, selling their children if it means "winning," all of which makes us less likely to believe that people have the sense they were born with.  Then there are the video “games” giving us the opportunity to participate as grand theft auto felons and killers, (or worse). Radio and television talk show hosts rant and rave in narrow rhetoric, espousing extreme positions, when common sense suggests that these "gurus" can't be right all of the time, and that other opinions or perspectives are needed to see the whole picture, including our own!  Being exposed to all of this nonsense can make us despair that common sense will ever again be valued as a desirable and necessary human capacity.

How are we to either foster or develop common sense, so that we are not at the mercy of our education system’s inane procedures and policies, or the media influence du jour? Even though things may seem hopeless, common sense is probably not something that can be totally destroyed, despite the lack of it we experience all around us. Parents can use encouragement and praise when their children demonstrate common sense.  Parents can display it themselves and point out examples of common sense in history, literature, films and in real life, practical situations.   Parents can also discuss with their children examples of lack of common sense, when the opportunity arises.  Better yet, parents have the option of home schooling their children (even in part), limiting (or eliminating) TV and computers for young children, allowing them to tap into and use their own common sense, hear their own questions, formulate their own answers, draw upon their own imagination, play inventively and creatively (rather than giving them a ready-made context and set characters that education and media present). 

But this is a topic for another time.  Let’s at least try to revive common sense whenever we can, encourage it and hope it is not gone forever!

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