Independent Thinking

By: Ian Gilbert


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Size: 200 x 200mm
Pages : 224
ISBN : 9781781350553
Format: Paperback
Published: December 2013

Do things no one does or do things everyone does in a way no one does.

See the same world you’ve always seen and that everyone else sees, but think new thoughts.

Get children to think in order to make the world better further down the line.

Fight back.

Think for yourself, before it’s too late and before someone else does it for you.

Written by Independent Thinking founder and award-winning author Ian Gilbert, this book is an invaluable collection of reflections, ideas and insights on the nature of learning, thinking, creativity and, drawing on Ian’s experience across three continents, the role education has in changing not only people’s lives but also entire societies. Controversial, humorous and challenging, this book is both moving and personal yet carries an important global call to action from a man with a distinctive voice and a unique perspective who has earned the right to speak his mind.

Picture for author Ian Gilbert

Ian Gilbert

Since establishing Independent Thinking 25 years ago, Ian Gilbert has made a name for himself across the world as a highly original writer, editor, speaker, practitioner and thinker, and is someone who the IB World magazine has referred to as one of the world's leading educational visionaries.

The author of several books, and the editor of many more, Ian is known by thousands of teachers and young people across the world for his award-winning Thunks books. Thunks grew out of Ian's work with Philosophy for Children (P4C), and are beguiling yet deceptively powerful little philosophical questions that he has created to make children's – as well as their teachers' – brains hurt.

Ian's growing collection of bestselling books has a more serious side too, without ever losing sight of his trademark wit and straight-talking style. The Little Book of Bereavement for Schools, born from personal family experience, is finding a home in schools across the world, and The Working Class – a massive collaborative effort he instigated and edited – is making a genuine difference to the lives of young people from some of the poorest backgrounds.

A unique writer and editor, there is no other voice like Ian Gilbert's in education today.

See for yourself.

Ian was winner of The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society's inaugural Educational Writers Award (Nov 2008) for 'The Little Book of Thunks' - Click here for more information on the book.

Re-framing the Education Debate with Independent Thinker, Ian Gilbert.

Click here to read Ian Gilbert’s blog.

Click here to read Ian's article in International Teacher Magazine.


  1. Ian Gilbert offers four good reasons to read this book: to confirm ideas, to inform ideas, to challenge ideas, and to form ideas in the first instance. (Actually, he gives these as good reasons to read any book). Independent Thinking is not a -˜how to' guide to mastery of a 21st century cognitive competency. Rather than -˜teaching' independent thinking, this book originates from independent thinking. Rather than promoting independent thinking, the book is a veiled call to action; students have, after all, learned various interpretations of the world, but the point that still remains is to change it. The book revolves around that eternal central question - -˜what is the purpose of education?'. Viewed through the lens of critical pedagogy, there are two possible responses: indoctrination or liberation. In this educational dichotomy Gilbert makes his position clear: he's on the side of liberation.

    The question of the purpose of education is not by extension the same as asking -˜what is the purpose of learning?'. Learning, I would posit, is the automatic process of psychological development within and into a social context; it is the natural functioning of the brain facilitated by the collective endeavours of social groups that cultivates the creation of knowledge and understanding. Education, by contrast, is a social - and often political - construct; it is the way in which learning is organised and the mechanisms employed to bring about educational outcome and output. It takes both a formal and informal form, occurring in every realm of human endeavour and in every human relationship - some of these, of course, impacting to a greater degree than others. The most prominent and visible form of formal education is the schooling system, which represents the institutionalisation of learning.

    From indoctrination to liberation The mechanism that achieves indoctrination is regimentation. Children are -˜trained' into a submissive state, accepting of the prevailing social order and the world-view of the brokers of power. Children learn obedience and conformity, and education is marked by control. The strategy utilised to achieve this end is the regimentation of school life and the establishment of schools in accordance with the factory model along the principles of Taylorism; uniforms, bells, walking in line, queuing before being given permission to enter a classroom, permission slips to go to the toilet, elaborate procedures for punishment and reward, the overuse and mis-use of summative assessment, the swamping of curriculum with superficial content. Adult -˜experts', rather than enhancing the process and experience of learning, hinder and shackle it in the name of -˜education'. In many institutions throughout the world these measures are explicitly and overtly militaristic in their design. The message is simple: be obedient, don't ask questions, know your designated place, fulfil your assigned role. In the so-called -˜traditional' (whose tradition?) model of education, students arrive at the classroom as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge from an elder authority figure, a teacher. Once sufficiently stuffed, their memories are tested to measure how much educational -˜stuff' has stuck; if there's enough in the mug they are permitted to pass on to the next stage of life, university and employment. This is the -˜banking' educational model criticized by Paulo Freire (1970) who instead proposed, promoted and practised a literacy for critical consciousness. Freire practised a transformational style of education in which students acted not as the objects of education but as the subjects of learning, gaining and experimenting with knowledge (Gibson, 1999). Education, therefore, needs to be student-centred with critical awareness following from critical enquiry. Freire sought to create not only a better educational experience for students but also a better world where the educational techniques he promoted represented a way to learn as well as a way to live (ibid).

    Play and dialogue are the mechanisms of learning and the most valuable education, I would argue, is that which equips the learner with the essential skills of learning and generates a disposition inclined to learning as a lifelong endeavour. In this model, education acts to enable autonomous independent learning and, in doing so, liberates the individual so that he/she can control and direct the successful completion of his/her own development and ultimately be true to his/her own nature; achieving Maslow's (1954) all-important self-actualisation. The nurturing of the individual and support of their learning, through the informal channels of socialisation and the formal institutions of school, is an enabling experience from which agency ensues.

    Independent Thinking is not a work of original thought, and Gilbert makes no such claim; indeed by page 2 the whole thing's already been attributed to Freire. But it clearly contains the convictions of an educationalist arrived at independently, although not in isolation, free from indoctrination, through the reading of great works written by other thinkers, through life experience, discussion and observation, from trial and error, and from a niggling feeling that the educational model being widely peddled is a concoction from a traveling medicine show.

    Gilbert tells us that he doesn't set much store by way of answers; like all good thinkers he prefers questions. But not all answers are replies to questions; some are solutions to problems. Independent Thinking is part of the answer to the problem of education. It's a dip-in or read through text in -˜coffee-table-book' form. And that's exactly where it needs to be: on the coffee tables in the staffrooms of every school, to be picked up, flicked through, pondered and put into action where it really counts - in the classroom. It's a book for adults, written and produced with a child-like charm to encourage those adults not to forsake the charms of childhood, and to do the right thing by way of the young people whose learning opportunity, success or failure, is largely in their hands.
  2. At a time of ever-increasing central prescription for education policy and practice driven by attainment and league table targets, the need for independent thinking is ever more urgent. Ian Gilbert sets an example to us all in 'looking out of the box'!

    This wonderful little book is a compendium of lateral thinking drawing on his unique personal and professional experiences. Its pithy, provocative and often amusing anecdotes and aphorisms will delight as well as challenge us in our own behaviours, beliefs and attitudes.
  3. Ian Gilbert in his own inimitable style has produced a real gem of a book. With personal recollections of his experiences and emotional and social background he motivates the reader, in the style of a good detective novel writer, to become a partner in the journey of solving the “crime”. He encourages the reader to reflect on the impact of education in its widest sense and its influence on the thinking skills of students. The book is really stimulating and thought provoking. My thought processes really got going when I read “The thing about shelves”. Then, after reading “My Chilean education”, I returned to read again “One Little Girl's Story”. An excellent book which is another plus for “Independent Thinking Press”.
  4. I thoroughly enjoyed the book Independent Thinking. The ten step parent guide is something we all know but seeing it written down makes it feel more real and is something teachers can and should do. This book makes you look at life outside the system of education and with a common sense approach. An enjoyable read that makes you smile and maybe change just a couple of things that will have a big impact.
  5. When you're faced with a book written by a man whose unofficial motto is this:-˜Do things no one does or do things every one does in a way no one does.' you know that, to do it justice, the review you write should take him at his word. And so, in a bid to do something everyone does, but in a way no one does, here are six reasons to avoid reading Independent Thinking by Ian Gilbert.

    Number One.
    The book isn't about Independent Thinking.

    In case you're new to his work, Ian Gilbert started an organisation called -˜Independent Thinking' back in 1993 (this has got something to do with Delboy Trotter, but you'd have to read the book to find out what). Twenty years later, he sits down to write a book called -˜Independent Thinking', but it's got nothing to do with the history of the company. What's that all about? Is he trying to confuse us?

    Number Two.
    There's no guidance about how to think independently.

    Having established that Ian Gilbert has put together something to encourage us to do some independent thinking (little -˜i', little -˜t'), it's disappointing to find out that he doesn't tell us how. The very least he could do is to tell his readers what to think. Instead, what Gilbert does is provide a selection of his own thoughts designed to provoke independent thinking in his readers. Not sure about you, but a book that makes you think for yourself is a chore.

    “-¦this isn't so much a book about what I think but what you think. I hope you enjoy my thinking but please refrain from using it as a substitute for your own.”
    Ian Gilbert, making us work in his introduction to the book.

    Number Three.
    This isn't a book about education.

    Or, more accurately, Independent Thinking isn't solely a book about education. Amongst other things, it also touches on travel, nature, grief, loss, trust, leadership and creativity. Each turn of the page greets the reader with a new topic to ponder. Do we really need our minds to be prodded in this way? Are these things so important that we need to think about them more than we need to discuss lesson plans or timetabling issues? Anyone would think they were, the way the author emphasises them.

    “Creativity starts with -˜If only-¦' Medeocrity ends with it.”
    Ian Gilbert in -˜Independent Thinking'

    Number Four.
    It's one of -˜those'books.

    You know the sort we mean? One of those books where the author thinks if they get it beautifully typeset and include some really thought-provoking ideas, they'll have made a beautifully-typeset, as well as thought-provoking, book. You will start reading Independent Thinking within five minutes of it arriving through the post. That's worrying, if not slightly addictive.

    Number Five.
    It contains too many ideas.

    When someone uses the word -˜smorgasbord' to describe it in the front, you know what sort of book you're going to get. The sort of book you can dip into or read all in one sitting and will want to repeat the experience the next day. Where you can go from a poem on one page to a philosophy of education on the next. A book which moves seamlessly between '30 Things That Exams Don't Measure' and -˜The Serendipitous Benefits Of Bad Taxi Drivers'. But why does Ian Gilbert do this? Independent Thinking flits in the same way the human mind flits as it thinks-¦

    -¦as it thinks independently-¦

    Ooh - see what he did there?

    It's as if the author believes that by sharing his own thoughts he can bring a spark of life to our own. Just what the world of education needs - another aesthetically-pleasing book full of interesting ideas, questions, poems and prose. But there's a distinct lack of educational jargon or league tables here - it's not what we're used to. The author seems to want us to come up with our own thoughts too. Unusual concept.

    “To identify your desired school ethos, establish what you want society to look like in 30 years and work backwards from there.”
    Ian Gilbert in -˜Independent Thinking'

    Number Six.
    It's a bit controversial.

    Independent Thinking contains a short story about a boy who refuses to sit a test and sections entitled -˜The Merits Of Not Having A Clue', -˜When Bad Science Leads To Good Practice' and -˜There's No Such Thing As An Educational Expert'. What would the Education Secretary say? What would you say?

    In Conclusion.

    Stick with the status quo. Keep your head down. Teach to the test. Love your data. Do things the way they've always been done. There's a reason why they've stood the test of time. Don't buy this book. The fact it was number one on Amazon Kindle downloads last week is just a strange coincidence. The links above are just to show you where to avoid it. Independent Thinking is just a company name.

    “In a blog you have an effectively infinite amount of space. Please refrain from seeing this as an incentive to fill it. Neither my concentration span nor my will to live will expand commensurately.”
    Be like that, Ian Gilbert in -˜Independent Thinking'

    On Doing Things Everyone Does In A Way No One Does-¦
    We thought long and hard about whether this review would work. But, we came to the following conclusion: the people that get it will love this book. Those that don't, most probably won't. Have we said all we can say in this slightly subversive review? No. But any book that we read within a day of getting it and again by the next day is GREAT. You think we can't review a book by listing how -˜bad' it is? To quote Ian Gilbert, “I refuse to let your evidence as to why something won't work get in the way of my making it work.”
    Independent Thinking is fresh, invigorating and the best book we've read in ages. Love it.

  6. This thought-provoking collection of musings on life, death, children and education is perfect for dipping into when you need inspiration. Topics covered -” concisely and with biting wit -” include using Twitter to help your pupils experience history in real time; what makes a -˜good school'; and how to give a deeper socio-political context to your next charity cake sale. There is a heartening list of 30 things that exams don't measure (including -˜ability to train a kestrel') alongside anecdotes,
    random observations and stimulating -˜thunks' (example: -˜Does a dog know if you hurt it by accident?').
  7. This is an unusual and sometimes unsettling book. Instead of giving the reader a list of instructions, or a blueprint for what education should be like, Ian Gilbert uses a series of questions, thinking points and stories to encourage us to think in a completely different way. If you ever fear that we might be losing sight of the big picture in education, then this book will remind you what that big picture is. Read this book and prepare to be unsettled, surprised, entertained and challenged. But above all, prepare to think.
  8. Open this book at random, and you may find yourself reading a poem. Or you could be faced with bullet pointed list. Or a parable. Or perhaps an anecdote. You might be challenged about your relationship with Twitter, or whether that animal over there really has to be defined as a cow or a pig, or why you are a teacher. And when you've finished reading - which could be after a few seconds, or a couple of hours, depending on what kind of a mood you're in and why you picked up the book in the first place - you may well find that you are thinking slightly differently from how you were before you started; about education, about life, and about what the former has to do with the latter. That's what Ian Gilbert does, apparently so effortlessly - he facilitates, inspires and releases genuinely independent thinking, not by leading you in a certain direction, but by opening previously concealed doors to reveal a multitude of potential horizons.
  9. Quite simply, the wisdom written on the back cover of this book speaks volumes about the contents within, “Do things no one does or do things everyone does in a way no one does” -” it's one of those phrases that stops you in your tracks and gets you thinking. This is what is at the heart of Gilbert's book -” the art of thinking, or independent thinking with many beguiling questions scattered throughout which catch your attention and get you thinking. Big life questions such as, “Is a mum who is abusive towards you better than no mum?”, to observations about the education system, “When teachers talk about education they are referring to what they can get out of young people. When politicians talk about it they are referring to what they can put into young people. It's important to remember this difference.” As I said, this book will stop you and get you thinking.

    For example, the alternative good school checklist has 25 key questions which all leaders, teachers and parents should explore in ensuring that children receive a top quality education; however different people will place a different priority in what they want the pupils to achieve. To me, key chapters in the book (they really are short and very absorbing) included the “How to write a book”, “Trust your gut” and the many -˜observations' and -˜thunks' sprinkled within. For those who become absorbed with social media -” twitter in particular -” will enjoy Gilbert's 21 ways of knowing you have spent too long on twitter-¦#soundsfamiliar!

    This book should be read and shared with educators globally, and if you don't have time to sit, read and reflect about education, your life and priorities, then this is the ONE book you should read this year. The ideas and thoughts within would be of great use within staff meetings in order to help keep feet on the ground and remember what the priorities within education should be. There is no definitive answer to this, but the succinct and digestible nature of this book will certainly help all those involved in the system to stop, think and reflect the practice within the school.
  10. I enjoyed the latest book by my namesake - but not relative I should hasten to add! -˜Independent Thinking' is a teacher friendly book in many ways.

    First, for busy classroom teachers like me it can be dipped in and out of and we'll find treasure on any page: a pearl of wisdom to motivate you; a wonderful “thunk” to get you re-thinking a subject with a fascinating question; a meditation upon the purposes of education to make you think about why you're teaching; an incisive observation about young people to make you see them in a different light; an autobiographical reflection to help you see how we're all connected by our common familial experiences; points to help you be a better parent or professional.

    Second, this book is informed by a philosophy which is both coherent and creative; there is a unifying theme that permeates it which is possibly encapsulated by one of Gilbert's aphorisms: “Creativity starts with -˜If only -¦' Mediocrity ends with it”.
  11. For twenty years Ian Gilbert's company Independent Thinking has encouraged us to think independently. Never has that been more important. His new book is a wonderful celebration of how education should be about more than value-added: it should be -˜values-added'. Ian Gilbert exudes strong values and clear principles. His writing is endlessly inventive and refreshing, and his ideas serve as an uplifting antidote to an educational world which can too often feel dispiriting, mechanical and joyless. This is a book to read and keep returning to, to rejuvenate us in the darker days of term-time. Highly recommended.
  12. Independent Thinking neutralises feedback by pointing out that it is an expression of the preferences, prejudices and limitations of the reviewer. That being so, I will confess to limitations of time and a preference for dipping in and out. Luckily -˜dipping in and out' is one of the intended uses of this book.
    I can have a lot of fun with a Thunk -” -˜Is never longer than forever?' or -˜What are the achievements of a newborn baby?' are satisfying questions to ponder or discuss. I enjoy certainty, too. In my world, the answers to the Thunks -˜Is it more important to do “I loveyou” than to say “I love you”?' and -˜Can you be a head teacher if you've never been a teacher and can you be a good head teacher if you've never been a good teacher?' are -˜Yes'. It's not lost on me that my certainty makes me an object of mistrust.
    As to prejudices, what is the point of education? I know it isn't to replicate -˜What works for me ...' Can the bogeyman that phrase conjures really be defeated by one little boy refusing to write his answers down? That, it seems to me, is the question at the heart of this book. Will it be used to start a revolution? Only if we use it to help us think. I did.
  13. In the modern world of education, it has become commonplace for individuals, groups and companies to offer solutions for our every need. Education, through its obsession with data, -˜outstanding' lessons, and results has led to the need for silver bullets and quick-fix solutions. This is what makes Ian Gilbert's Independent Thinking such a refreshing book to read. Through an eclectic mix of stories, reflections and Thunks, the book fosters the very process which gives it its title. Reading this book will not provide any solutions but will act as fertile jump-off points to new questions and thinking as you engage with the many ideas explored here. There is a wide selection of topics, insights and perspectives but running through them is a strong Freirean philosophy and a belief in the goodness and potential of humanity.
    This is a book which can be used in a number of different ways, from a starting point for personal reflection to a focus for collaborative discussion. One element which I find particularly positive is the lack of a simple, linear narrative; the reader can engage with as little or as much of the content as they wish, and can engage with the ideas in an order that suits them. Deleuze, the French philosopher, argues that we should think with the world rather than about it; this book, for me, embodies this ideal.
  14. Ian Gilbert has provided us with a wonderful, entertaining smorgasbord of a read. The author offers insights into his personal history and charts the ways in which this has influenced his own intellectual development. In doing so, he continually challenges our assumptions and delivers some perceptive comments on current educational practice. Although the book differs from conventional educational offerings, readers will undoubtedly find themselves forced to rethink their ideas about the best way to prepare today's children for life in tomorrow's world.
  15. Independent Thinking is scattered with Ian Gilbert's own life experiences, using them to highlight his passion about what education should be. This is a must-read for teachers, parents, students, anyone with an interest in how our children are taught, and most importantly those responsible for designing and influencing the school curriculum!
    From the first page to the last page, Independent Thinking is not only easy to read, but easy to relate to, easy to agree with almost everything written on every page, easy to say -˜Yes, why isn't that happening?', and easy to write a list of all those you would like to read it. It isn't easy to put down and it won't be one of those books Ian describes in one of his bookshelf chapters, with the remark that -˜if you have a book but don't read it within 3 months give it to someone else'.
    Number 1 in the list of 42 uses for this book is 'To help you think' and it does just that. Using at times personal examples from throughout his life, he questions why 'thinking' is not integrated into teaching as naturally as it should be, which in turn makes the reader ask the same question. The arguments made for why it should be are hard to argue against.
  16. What an engaging read, splattered with gems which will make you think and think again about life, living, dying and what education, teaching and schools are, and how, at their best might, they might excite and influence. Idiosyncratic it is, with its Thunks and its apparent, kaleidoscopic randomness, but all the more worth reading because or despite of all that.

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