education philosopher

What Makes Educators So Susceptible to Fads?

Posted in Teaching by KevinCK on July 9, 2009

In the 1970’s, “open space education” was the rage. In the ning, ’80’s, it was “whole language education.” IN the 90’s, “learning styles” and “multiple intelligences” were the buzzword. The last 10 years have seen “brain-based education” and several other fads hit the field of education with full force. (A disttrict in which I taught bought in, a few years ago, to the “Capturing Kids Hearts” program offered by motivational speaker Flip Flippen. It was junked within two years.)

A 1998 article for the Christian Science Monitor notes:

Even critics note these ideas have valid points. But they were often adopted without data – without balancing the claims of competing teaching techniques – and then taken to extremes. That resulting pendulum swings are prompting a reevaluation of how educators adopt new practices in the classroom.

One reason the author sees for the field of education’s quick trigger in adapting unproven fads, is that “[a] large number of unjuried professional journals let inadequate research pass uncritically. Key decisionmakers, like urban superintendents, typically hold jobs for three years and feel pressed to show results fast.’

I have several other speculations to add to the list in order to explain education’s peculiar susceptibility to the latest and greatest fads.

First, as a teacher myself, I know firsthand how overwhelming and “full tilt” a profession teaching is. Even the best teachers are often fighting uphill battles day in and day out, trying to get this student engaged, that student to catch up to the class, and this student to stop throwing pencils across the room. Now, imagine someone – a rhetorically savy speaker with a service to sell – telling us that they have the program that will save us the headaches and heartaches.

Of course, we are all a little susceptible to programs – weight loss, addiction, etc – that offer a magic fix. And education, being a field beset by constant uphill struggles, is rife with ready consumers. Just tell us what the magic pill is and we’ll swallow it. (more…)

Does the Brain Really Matter? Not to Education.

Posted in Brain-based learning, Education, Philosophy of, Mind by KevinCK on July 5, 2009

For a while now, I have been arguing against brain-based learning by writing that, no matter how much brain research brainwe have, it will always play second fiddle to research from the fields of education and educational psychology. How the brain works is quite unimportant; how the mind works is what we are after. (Just in case the distinction is unclear, the brain is the physical equipment, replete with synapses and neurons; the mind is the experience, replete with thoughts and experiential phenomena like colors and sounds).

I just ran across a 10 year old article by neurophilosopher Jerry Fodor that interestingly helps to articulate this idea. Fodor is bemused at why so much attention is being focused on brain research, and particularly, to finding out where different thoughts are physically represented in the brain.

I’ll give you some suggestions, not all frivolous, that I’ve heard about why it’s a good thing that science is spending so much time, money and computer power on brain localisation research. I’ll also tell you why none of these suggestions moves me much. Maybe, if I have indeed got it all wrong, someone will correct me by return of post.

Fodor takes issue with those trying to prove that different thought activities – learning vocab, playing chess, learning guitar – are phenomenologically different by showing that they have different loci in the brain. Fodor’s argument against this is that we already know that they are different. Proving that they have different brain loci does little more than prove what we already knew via psychology, introspection, and experience.

childAll of that reminds Fodor, he says, of a “funny didactic fable of Bernard Shaw’s” where Pavlov is drilling holes into dog’s mouths to prove that “expecting food makes them salivate.” When an objector tells Pavlov  that we already knew this fact, he responds that know we know it scientifically. In other words, much like brain research into where various thoughts reside in the brain, it may be interesting to do the experiments, but they only prove things we already knew. (more…)