Troublesome thinking

The challenge of getting beyond ‘internally persuasive dialogues’ for both students and teachers towards potential ‘ paradigm shifts’ (Kuhn 1970) in thinking and transforming perceptions (Mezirow 1990) requires on-going engagement with what Perkins calls troublesome thinking. The characteristics of troublesome thinking are that it is often alien to our previous thinking, conceptually challenging, potentially disquieting, difficult to come to terms with and to assimilate into current ways of thinking (Perkins 2006). Transformed perceptions (Mezirow,1990) sometimes result from dramatic experiences, insights or trauma, but are more often the result of small gradual shifts in understanding, as people are challenged to move away from attitudes and beliefs that have been developed and absorbed in childhood and adolescence, towards more critical reflection on self and community attitudes and assumptions.

Research evidence from Northern Ireland has revealed that children as young as 4 and 5 show preference for symbols of ‘their’ community (Connolly et al 2002). It is little wonder then that young people struggle to overcome ‘internally persuasive dialogues’ since they have been persuaded since childhood that there is a preferred way of seeing, making sense of and coping with their world. Challenging the nature of received identity that created our historical frame of reference is deeply emotional. It requires opportunities to examine and understand ourselves; our families and relationships, our locations and the experiences that have formed us. It requires support to take risks, and become more open and receptive to alternative meanings, especially where particular understanding is outside of the learner’s comfort zone and challenges thought processes, beliefs and values that may previously have been private and are now troublesome.