Who doesn’t love wearing silly hats? Christmas dinner just wouldn’t be the same without popping on a paper hat and looking like a complete buffoon for the duration. But does this kind of behaviour have a place in education? And if you think not, is it acceptable to poke fun at those who disagree?

So, firstly, let’s establish whether or not Edward de Bono’s Thinking hats actually are silly. Harry Webb’s rule of thumb on determining whether an idea is silly or has merit is to imagine whether it could feature in a Monty Python sketch. Now clearly I’m partisan here, but can’t you just see John Cleese and co having enormous fun with the hats? The sketch practically writes itself. And obviously Brain (or Brian) Gym would work equally well: I can almost hear the smutty guffaws as Eric Idle enthusiastically rubs his ‘brain buttons’. But some education ideas just aren’t funny. Regardless of whether you think they’re any good, there’s just not that much scope for lampooning Direct Instruction, Jigsawing or whole class discussions. Yeah, OK you can do that (yawn) boring, socially inept teacher-as-fool thing that David Walliams is currently channeling, but really, no one thinks Big School is funny, do they?

Also, and maybe more tellingly, the obviously pro Hats site www.debonoforschools.com reads like a parody. Even though I knew that it wasn’t intentionally funny, I found myself chuckling along. Here are a couple of gems:

Six Thinking Hats® is a time-tested, proven and practical thinking tool. It provides a framework to help people think clearly and thoroughly by directing their thinking attention in one direction at a time–white hat facts, green hat creativity, yellow hat benefits, black cautions, red hat feelings, and blue hat process. Dr. de Bono wrote this international best selling book in 1985. You can buy a copy here.

It’s a simple mental metaphor. Hats are easy to put on and to take off. Each hat is a different color which signals the thinking ingredient. In a group setting each member thinks using the same thinking hat, at the same time, on the same thinking challenge—we call this focused parallel thinking–a tool that facilitates creativity and collaboration. It enables each person’s unique point of view to be included and considered. Argument and endless discussion become a thing of the past. Thinking becomes more thorough.

Six Thinking Hats® has become a basic 21st Century tool kit for proactive business and education thought leaders, and students–K-12 & Higher Education. To read a variety of business articles and case studies click here.

“We love the hats. Tara and I introduced our students to them right away on Friday. Our Academic/Honors students were skeptical. My Applied Communications class LOVED them. Since then, with a little encouragement, we have had nothing but success with the hats. Tara’s Journalism class is attacking the school magazine all with hats. My Applied class designed and implemented a new independent novel unit utilizing the hats. My Honors Speech and Debate class has implemented a new peer comment format that revolves around yellow, black, and green hat ideas. My Honors III class is exploring The Red Badge of Courage with the hats. The red hat is especially helpful because they are putting themselves in a few of the characters’ shoes. They also linked the current Jessica Lynch debate (hero or not) to the novel with the hats.”

“SIX HATS® has provided me with a whole new channel of thinking – pulling my mind into new directions.” —Carrie Mathias

This stuff is comedy gold! And even funnier is the Uncyclopedia page, Six Hats which has some great caricatures of ‘typical’ six hats thinking.

Typical Blue Hat thinker

Typical Blue Hat thinker

OK, so I’ve enjoyed myself sniggering at all this, but is this intimidatory? Am I squashing debate by mocking a strategy that other teachers might hold dear? Will they perhaps feel too ashamed to be able to defend their thinking and experience? Well, these are valid concerns, and obviously, I’d hate to think that I was closing down discussion. Just because I think I’m right doesn’t mean I have the right to stamp on other people’s opinions. But here’s the kicker: wasting time on stuff which is obviously guff is irresponsible. Time spent teaching kids about how to act when wearing (even metaphorically) coloured hats is time not spent teaching them maths, science or history. I see it as a professional responsibility to root out and expose any practices that are so clearly without merit. You see, the thought that anyone in a position of power is pedalling this nonsense makes me cross. As you can see from the links above, people are making money out of teachers’ credulity; public money that could be sent on something that might actually benefit children. What really irks me about de Bono’s dubious headgear is that it’s a way of trying to market thinking. Obviously children thinking is a good thing – everyone wants that. But the idea that we need to wear hats to think in different ways is just insulting. I could just get angry and make impassioned, righteous tilts at these time-wasting windmills, but sometimes it’s more effective (and possibly kinder) to laugh. Laughter pricks pomposity.

And hopefully, educated, intelligent readers can work out that I’m mocking I’m not mocking them, I’m holding up a fad, which really should have expired years ago, to ridicule. But like VAK, de Bono’s party hats seem to linger on, zombie-like while new generations of teachers are instructed in its methodology and uses. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

You really can!

You really can!

And just as wearing silly hats at Christmas lightens the mood and makes us equal, so too does a rueful smile at the way we can all be taken in by gimmickry and fads.

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The problem with fun
Why the knowledge/skills debate is worth having