For those who’ve been on my blog, you probably know that I am critical of brain-based learning, which is all the rage in schools across the country. Recently, a poster named Monique has added a defense of brain-based learning in reply to one of my critical posts. Her comments were interesting enough, and my reply in detail, enough, that I thought it would be good to make a post out of it. (By way of background, Monique is a special educator who has recently achieved an M.S. in “cognitive science and brain-based teaching strategies.”)
I am not including Monique’s comments on my post, but they are heavily quoted in my reply to her bel0w.
Thanks for the comments. I don’t think, though, that I’m confusing neuroscience and cognitive science. In fact, I am saying very directly that cognitive science is what teachers want to focus on, and neuroscience is useless to understanding how to teach kids. Knowing how a kids brain works, how synapses are formed, etc, does nothng to show how to teach kids because it does not deal with what teachers teach: minds.
You say that:
“Furthermore, if there is a flaw in the brain’s design or functioning, then we must understand what is going on in order to address the issues this malfunction is causing in the classroom” (more…)
Here is an interesting article written in 1993 about fads in education; but it might as well have been written yesterday, tomorrow, or a year from now. It’s first twelve words tell us much of what we need to know:
The only ones helped by teaching fads are those who market them.
It is a lesson hard learned for departments of education the nation over. The presence of educational fads – multiple intelligences, brain based ways of learning, varios language arts programs that last for about two years, the endless array of “educational consultants” gracing inservices – has certainly not slowed down.
When I was a public school teacher, brain based learning was – and still is – all the rage (multiple intelligence theory is not far behind). Several times, our school was visited by educational consultant Allen Mendler, which I have to assume costed the district a good amount and yielded few results. (None of the teachers I talked ot afterwards took it very seriously, but the administration was sure giddy that he was there.)
One of the points the above-cited article alludes to is that we must be cognizant about the fact that the educational fads are almost exclusively pushed by those trying to sell something. (I will elaborate further, though, because I think it is a good point that needs more examination.) (more…)
We learn so that we can do.
Does that sound controversial or iconoclastic – to say that learning derives its value instrumentally, rather than possessing intrinsic value? This has been a controversial point ever since educational “progressives” like John Dewey tried to justify an instrumental view of knowldge against the more “conservative” intrinsicist view of thinkers like Bagley and, later, Mortimer Adler. For the record, I think the progressives won; knowledge – almost all of it, excepting trivia, derives its value from what it can do.
Knowledge is gained so that we can avoid thinking later.
Now, here is a statement that might strike one as iconoclastic and even paradoxical! Learning is done so as to avoid thinking? Well, yes. We learn to drive so that we can drive better by not having to think about driving. We learn basic math techniques and formulae so that we can solve math problems with some level of automaticity. We acquire vocabulary so that we can read more and more advanced stuff without having to think too hard about every work. In other words, we gain knowledge to gain familiarity, and we want familiarity so that we don’t have to think too hard.
I bring these things up for two reasons: first, both statements above are nowhere close to settled in the world of education. We constantly hear that knowledge has intrinsic value (often hearing it the most when subjects are defended whose practical value is unclear, like literature). Subjecting knowledge to questions like “What can it do for the learner?” is often derided as crass view that focuses more on the “bottom line” than anything.
Likewise, it is commonly assumed that as children are said to be innately curious, that knowledge will tend to lead to more, rather than less, thinking. The problem is that while kids are innately curious, they are generally only curious about certain things. And further, the vast majority of things that children, and adults, have to learn do not fall into the category of things we are passionate about, but things we learn so that we can gain necessary fluency and automaticity in order to avoid having to think about them in the future. And the ability to do without having to think too hard about what is being done is called “mastery.” (more…)