The main social functions of school seem to be to help students show off their smarts, conformity, and conscientiousness. Schools also babysit, socialize, and indoctrinate. But run my experience the two
OK, You have valid points. Hope to encounter you again around disqus-land.
I think it is largely a difference in attitude rather than innate talent. Do you love novelty for novelty's sake, or are you intolerant of novelty? Are you willing to try a hundred wrong attempts without being discouraged, until you finally find something that works, or are you unable to stand being wrong even once?
Affinity for novelty, and tolerance of repeated failure, together with a minimum of required competence in your chosen field, are what you need to come up with original solutions.
In engineering, it becomes obvious who the original thinkers are; they are the ones who solve never-before-encountered problems with never-before-attempted techniques. The best thinkers I've worked with were not necessarily brilliant or even excellent students at school, they just have that talent for imaginative thought. I don't believe this can be learned; one who doesn't posses it may see it in others, aspire to it, and improve their own thinking capabilities, but can never fully jump to the next level.
Assuming this is true - I am a bit skeptical - it doesn't imply that 'thinking for yourself' is a distinct skill/skillset that can be improved through practice, if transfer can be achieved only by increasing IQ. I think it's probably more like an activity where one has a certain % chance of discovering a correct contrarian opinion (or just "admirably unusual" opinion) per unit of effort invested.
Years of education has a causal, positive influence on IQ, so there must be some transfer. There are multiple studies examining this, see for example this one.
It's difficult to show transfer experimentally by actively training the subject in a domain and observing their performance in a second domain, simply because of the large amount of education (full-time years) that is necessary to influence IQ.
It seems you / they're assuming that thinking for yourself is a skill that can be developed through practice. But evidence of '"far transfer" - transfer of skills and expertise from one domain to another, learning to learn, etc - is negligible to non-existent e.g. studying chess won't make you better at board games. So unless you have good reasons to believe "thinking for yourself" is like playing variants of chess and not playing a bunch of different board games, probably you can only encourage students to think for themselves, not teach them how. In which case, the focus should be on praising students who demonstrate reflexive contrarianism, divergent thinking, devil's advocacy, defiance of their peers, contempt for expertise, etc. Class might involve improv games where the "heretic" takes on the "mob", and if he stands his ground is rewarded by general applause and specific praise for the various contrarian virtues he demonstrated...
... but generally, I think that extracurricular debate clubs actually do encourage exploring controversial topics, and reward students for their rhetoric rather than their epistemics - OK for this purpose. That was my experience in high school anyway.
If students are taught to be "rational" and "think critically," this includes as part of it figuring things out for themselves when there is no trustworthy expert to rely on. "Being rational" is strictly superior to your definition of "figuring things out for yourself."
(My definition of "figuring things out for yourself" is different from yours, and just identical with "being rational." Identifying legitimate, trustworthy experts in a domain is cognitive work which the individual must do himself. Because to rationally delegate that work to someone else, the individual first would have to, by himself, rationally identify the delegate as being legitimate and trustworthy to serve as a delegate. When selecting which experts to trust, the individual ultimately has only his own reason to rely on.)
I believe one of the tacit goals of English literature classes (arguably the most heavily emphasized part of K-12 education) is to substitute for a study of ethics, which would otherwise be too controversial.
Thinking for yourself is a valuable skill to practice and develop, especially given that observers weigh it heavily in their evaluations of us. Often there won't be authorities to rely on, and we will have to figure things out for ourselves.
In a comment in your previous post you said,
I don't at all mean to identify "think for yourself" with "think rationally." I explicitly said that thinking for yourself tends to result in less accurate beliefs.
The context for this was that according to your definition, "rationally evaluating an authority's track record and typical methods, and concluding on that basis that the authority is probably correct," is apparently not "thinking for yourself."
So why would it be a desirable outcome that students "think for themselves" in this sense, if you are explicitly defining this as not "rational," and excluding from this the important skill of identifying trustworthy sources? I would prefer that students be taught to think critically and rationally, which includes accepting the word of trustworthy domain experts when this is the best evidence available.
Okay, I added a link to that in the post.
Worth linking to your take on the "Intelligent Design" documentary Expelled.