To the editor:
I have been touched by the story of "Kim" and other savants, whose lives and experiences have been used as the basis for the "Rain Man" movie, as well as a recent TV documentary and several feature stories in newspapers and magazines.In some ways these men and women are brilliant. They are able to amass and recall a seemingly infinite number of facts and figures. Their memory of concrete details puts most of the rest of us to shame.
Yet, unhappily, these good people are many times severely reduced as to their ability to reason, deduce, analyze or create.
I was disheartened, then, to hear that Kim was able to graduate from high school at age 14. Not disheartened for Kim and others like him, because I am in awe of his smartness as to facts and figures.
But rather, disheartened if our educational system relies so much on students being able to parrot back to the teacher pure facts and figures, names and places, that recognition for thinking is very much a secondary achievement.
Certainly there is a move in Utah's public school districts toward the improved teaching of thinking skills. I applaud that.
There is a desperate need for all of us in leadership positions to have high expectations for the thinking process - not only for those for whom we have responsibility, but also for ourselves.
We must lead those who follow to learn to think clearly and effectively. We must stretch our abilities to attain high standards and difficult goals. We must demonstrate that we expect accountability.
It is fine to stockpile hard data. Often, that is very necessary information. But it is equally as important to analyze the data, to develop "so, what now?" thinking in relation to the basic facts and figures.
It is one thing, for example, to learn how to operate sophisticated equipment, and to become a craftsman in one's accomplishment of set tasks. We teach such practical skills at the college with which I am affiliated.
But it is much more when the skilled operator knows also why, and can think through a whole range of possibilities to arrive at a solution to a problem.
In the accelerated world in which we operate, it is not enough to be able to do even as well as sophisticated computers - incredible though they are. There is the essential need to be able to apply such information. That comes about as we in education and business insist on difficult but reachable goals for our students, employees and ourselves, requiring us all to really think and to develop solutions.
In the process perhaps each of us can gain wisdom, which is surely the beneficial application of knowledge.
Dr. O.D. Carnahan
Salt Lake Community College