Mendel, my fourth grade grandson, was asked to announce a Father-Son study project to his class. As he was about to begin, his teacher asked him, "Have you thought about Donny? Donny's father passed away last year."

"Should I say Adult-Student study project?" he asked

"Think about what will feel natural" was the response.

Mendel announced "a special study project where you may bring an adult as a partner."

"I liked the way he was thinking sensitively," his teacher said to me later.

I thought to myself, this kind of sensitive thinking can and aught to be taught.

The idea that children need to learn how to think, rather than to learn subject matter is a not new. We send our children to school to learn, but to learn what? Of course we expect them to learn not only a lot of facts about a variety of subjects, but to develop skills in the process as well. Clearly, the facts one needs to assimilate in order to be able to function effectively are overwhelming and becoming all the more so.

More and more educators are advocating that schools actively teach more thinking skills as opposed to subject content. Rather than learning information, they argue, students should be taught how to become "disciplined thinkers". We aught to train children to build a general knowledge base in a specific field and help them develop the thinking skills which will enable them to broaden and deepen that base, they say.

When I read all the stuff about teaching "thinking" skills, I wonder; what of the ethical and moral underpinnings of our thinking processes? What about the kind of thinking Mendel needed to do? There seems to be an absence of discussion about what to me, is the most essential part of the education process; that we must teach a child to become a "mentch" (a decent human being). I don't hear enough talk about our need to teach children how to think about, and be sensitive to what is right and proper and just and good.

I recently read a series of articles on the subject of "Thinking Skills" published by a noteworthy journal and I pondered about the essential ingredient missing from the discussion. As I read a number of thought provoking pieces by leading educators, it occurred to me that the discussion centers on helping our children move from asking "what" to "how" and eventually "why". Missing from the discussion is the answer to an existential "therefore". What all this has to do with how the child's character will develop.

We can all probably agree that we send our children to school so they should acquire the tools which will enable them to be able to live comfortably in their world. We want them to learn how to sustain themselves through an appropriate form of endeavor. We also want them to learn to appreciate the finer things in life. Or more simply put, we expect them to learn skills which will enable them to earn a livelihood and live comfortably. And we want them to learn to be able to make intelligent decisions which will make all that possible.

Will children learn not just how to make a living but how to live?

We might disagree about the nature of a purposeful life or what constitutes the "finer things" in life. We may have varying views on what life is all about but we will agree that we want our children to learn to live an upright, ethical and moral life.

In what part of their education will children learn not just how to make a living but how to live? Is it the school's responsibility or is it the responsibility of the home? One would assume that at faith based schools, this issue is a basic component of the curriculum. I think however, that this requires more than learning about what is right and what is wrong. It requires a disciplined educational approach to promoting ethical and sensitive thinking.

It is not enough for a Jewish school, for example, to talk about a Torah narrative and draw a parallel to today, nor would it suffice to merely teach the Halachic (Jewish Law) requirement regarding a particular issue without a discussion of the reasoning behind it. Children will find a way to justify their own behavior or worse they may learn to circumvent the Law and show its irrelevance to the matter at hand. We need to become proactive at teaching our children to think in terms of ethical and moral behavior.

One would suppose that helping a child develop his own moral footing is the combined responsibility of school, home and society; that how a child will learn to act is based upon his cumulative experiences. Much of the literature on the development of ethical and moral behavior would lead one to believe that without active, positive mentoring experiences a child may miss the boat completely. A child needs to learn how to think about what is right and what isn't and to how to make proper, desired behavioral choices, if he is to learn to live an upright life. That is the most important thinking skill we need to teach our children.

Moral and ethical behavior development starts with rule imposition by an authority figure and eventually leads to recognition of the need for personal standards of behavior which are based upon universally accepted principles. When our children are young, we set acceptable behavior standards for them. We teach them to respect other people's property, to be considerate of their feelings and treat everyone fairly. Robert Fulghum wrote a best seller titled "All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten" and he made a lot of money telling us the obvious.

As our children grow older and begin to look to their peers for approval, imposing a behavior system on them will become futile. They increasingly look to their friends and peers for acceptance and less to an authority figure. They need to acquire the tools to make proper behavioral choices by themselves. We aught to proactively help our children develop the sensitivity and the skills to be able to think in terms of personal ethics. If we have taught them to examine their behavior against a higher moral authority and to think for themselves, we have the right to expect that they will "do the right thing". If we expect them to learn to think in ethical terms vicariously, we may expect to be disappointed.

The challenge is of course, to be able do so affectively.