Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dulled Minds

Sensible stuff from Justine Nicholas, Lecturer in English at City University New York, who notes the dire effects of schooling upon creative thinking.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very interesting article. Although I am not sure that she is criticising schooling as such? I had the impression that she was critical of the misapplication of Piagetian theory in the 60s and 70s that meant that children weren't taught grammatical rules. She also seems to believe that classroom teaching can include such rules if it is in the context of helping children achieve goals they have set themselves.
Or, when she says 'Gatto', does that automatically mean that home education is what she has in mind?

Carlotta said...

You're right, I think, that she doesn't explicitly hold school education responsible for this mess but I think she actually does so implicitly with this:

"It seems to me that the best way to motivate students to learn the basics of any body of knowledge, or to master any fundamental skill, is through whatever motivates students".

It is the case that teachers often like to think that they can manage the sort of personalised learning that will result in a whole classroom of pupils being motivated, but they are, unfortunately simply deluding themselves. Even the most gifted teacher, working at maximum capacity, is very unlikely to be taking every single child with him. OTOH, HE children can do this with a very, very much higher degree of consistency.

Leo said...

Hmmm... David Deustch's mind wasn't dulled. Nor the mind of many brilliant personalities worldwide that were schooled. Were they in fantastic rare schools or was the genius in them already?

I'm honestly starting to think we are afraid to admit that some people will not get to a very high level intellectually. It has become a taboo.

Many kids are getting to higher education for the status but many just don't have the brains.

People also don't realise that the issue is not schooling but state education. State education is not bringing equality of opportunities to people, the money mummy and daddy have will always make a difference in who you become.

Carlotta said...

I wish I could dispel the idea that public schooling necessarily brings advantage. It can be just as damaging to the learning process than any state school.

Schooling can be successful in rare instances, I would be the last to deny that. The child may happen to have the requisite attributes that make the classroom situation and the subject interesting. But by default of offering only one type of learning to a whole group of children, some, if not most of them will get very little from the classroom.

The fact that there are many great minds out there who were schooled may have also more to do with the fact that they learnt outside of the school environment.

Anonymous said...

Leo,

re: 'the money that mummy and daddy have will always make a difference in who you will become'.

I do agree that whether or not your parents have money will be influential on what happens to you, certainly in so far as how much you possess, how secure you are likely to feel financially etc; but then so too does the genetic inheritance you recieve and the ideas your parents choose to share with you. Equal rights does not mean that you are born and brought up with equal attributes, gifts, abilities and so on.

It is possible, even, that if your parents can give you one of the following things: wealth, good looks, or good ideas (and with this the ability to reason and generate them) that you might be better off being given the last of the three....fortunately this is within the range of all families regardless of wealth.

What do you think?

D

Leo said...

Carlotta,

"The fact that there are many great minds out there who were schooled may have also more to do with the fact that they learnt outside of the school environment."

I hear that one a lot but I am still very very skeptical about it. It's not something that can be proved.

I have a friend that claims that being in a strict private school where he had to memorise French verbs whether he liked it or not, helped him to concentrate and gain other mind skills that permit him to do well in programming now. He is a very active and brilliant person.

This idea he has is pretty much against the idea of autonomous education. Or perhaps it works with his brains and not with others. I don't know.

But I really doubt that the fine colleges and Universities people were in had nothing to do with their sucess.

Perhaps basic school education has become irrelevant in developed countries nowadays, because of Internet and such a variety of books, hands-on museums, etc... But I wouldn't scratch the importance of secondary and especially superior education on the sucess of people just yet.

D, I very honestly think that is better for parents to have either wealth or good looks to give their children.

Good looks can get even the poorest child into modeling, which is a job that pays well. I know such a case.

Money gives children the advantage to try as many good things as possible, to go into all sorts of places and learn things at a deeper level. I know many cases like this. If you can only afford a cheap plastic guitar you are not really facilitating your children becoming great guitarrists.

Children do not tend to follow their parent's ideas much, if at all. They follow their generation, their peers, the current cultural trends, etc.

Anonymous said...

Very true, Leo! Certainly best to have all three!! With wealth, good looks and good ideas the possibilities are endless...

But, my imaginary situation was about only having one of these. And, I think that looks and/or wealth without good ideas could mean that these gifts are just wasted. And if one is unfortunate enough not to benefit from any natural advantages than good ideas can make up for an awful lot.

However, as you point out, that is certainly not optimum!

Carlotta said...

"I have a friend that claims that being in a strict private school where he had to memorise French verbs whether he liked it or not, helped him to concentrate and gain other mind skills that permit him to do well in programming now. He is a very active and brilliant person."

It would be an interesting question this one...the degree to which this person was or was not coerced when learning these verbs. In the case of complete coercion, he would doubtless never have learned anything at all...not even subliminally.

So perhaps what he did was to create a compromise with the fact that he felt compelled to learn these verbs and accepted that this needed to be done. He therefore employed active thought in the matter and was therefore not coerced as such. He may be right that it could be a useful skill to learn to adapt to coercive situations by reducing the coercive experience, but again this is a rather hit and miss affair in that the absense of genuine free choice in the matter means that one may not rationally consider the genuine usefulness of the knowledge so acquired...hence his certainty that this knowledge was useful!

OTOH, models of why coercion is suboptimal do not rule out that some learning will take place when being less than comprehensively coerced, (taking the definition to mean that being coerced means being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind and is therefore less subject to rationality and creativity..) so perhaps he did learn, if suboptimally, when being coerced.

Why, though, would he think this a superior form of learning, or why would he think that he could not acquire such skills as he has without going through this particular suboptimal ritual???

Would it not be better, without any view to how knowledge is to be used in the future, simply to aim to facilitate the most active thoughts that we have?

How could this not be the case?

This idea he has is pretty much against the idea of autonomous education. Or perhaps it works with his brains and not with others. I don't know.

"But I really doubt that the fine colleges and Universities people were in had nothing to do with their sucess".

I am sure you are right in this regard. I am merely saying that coerced learning is suboptimal and that this is likely to happen more frequently in situations which are neither freely chosen, nor personalised, which usually means school. Of course some excellent learning can take place in institutions, but this is not a refutation of the point I am trying to make.

Oops garbled...apologies! Am multitasking....

Leo said...

D, you said:

"I think that looks and/or wealth without good ideas could mean that these gifts are just wasted"

Why do you say this? What good ideas are necessary? And why would good ideas have to come necessarily from the parents? Ideas are all around you, your physical body and your wealth are harder to change. At least I think so, perhaps my ideas are just very bad.

Carlotta,

Your theory is good. I think that it's likely that anime and games have done more for my friend's mind than the forced French verbs, but as those activities are seen as mindless entertainment, he might not even think to consider their positive effect on his mind.

But it might be something else too.
I do not want to defend we should force children to do stuff against their will, but there might be some unexplained useful truth in what apparently are bad ideas.

When I was at school, I remember that when I was studying for tests I hated it would stir my mind somewhat and inspire me to draw or write stories. Most of my creative stuff was done after studying for tests and after doing the tests.

It's like the forced intellectual torture made my mind "run". The tests subject matter was unpleasant but the feeling of my mind "running" and being able to create things was actually very nice and it stopped happening when I left school.

When I left school, or perhaps slightly before, I noticed I became slower and slower in both writing and drawing. I couldn't think. Why did that happen?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for picking up on this, Leo, I wasn't being very clear. I suppose that I really mean not being damaged by bad ideas. For instance, I know very attractive people who have been convinced by parents (and whilst there are lots of other good ideas all around us, parents are often very influential, and not every one gets beyond their influence...) that either they were not attractive or that they should hide this attractiveness. The result being that they have not enjoyed any benefit from this natural advantage. Perhaps, being lucky enough to have learnt good problem solving skills might be a better phrase than 'good ideas'.

D

Carlotta said...

And thanks for picking up on those other points too, Leo. It's got me thinking that it will need another post to address this...will get on to it.

Leo said...

D,

I see what you mean now. I am not good solving problems so I am not sure if as a parent I could be much help.