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ebitler's picture

Stimulating Minds and Educational Policy

I was trying to think about the brain and education without focusing so much on diversity, to see if I came to any different conclusions. Based on the readings for this past week it seems to me that they point to just how important it is to stimulate the brain. Brains can be trained with a great deal of stimulation to learn better, and for me this emphasizes the need for challenging academics at every age.

 

I think it’s a pretty common belief that brains need to face interesting and challenging problems in educational settings to promote the ability to learn and the ability to think critically. But despite this common attitude, this idea doesn’t really seem to be reflected in public policy. It’s not a new topic, but the No Child Left Behind legislation is interesting to think about in the context of what it’s doing to our children’s brains.

 

No Child Left Behind policies have led to some poor implementation in some states. For example, my experience with the Pennsylvania public schools is that they now teach to the test, so that kids spend months learning how to answer analogy problems or search for the right context clues in a paragraph so that the schools’ scores are high enough to continue receiving federal funding. This has two major problems. First of all, it prevents any encouragement of neurodiversity by only exposing students to the types of questions on tests and telling them exactly how to arrive at the answers. Secondly, it does nothing to stimulate and challenge the brains of the kids that are capable of passing the test from the start. Rather it promotes stagnancy in all those individuals who are about the minimum education requirement.

 

There are special programs that will pull kids out of their classes to expose them to extra learning opportunities if they are considered exceptional students, and I think there’s something to be said for challenging each mind as much as possible. This leads me to the argument that track programs, where students are in classes based on their abilities, may be a better route for developing all minds. Although returning to the question of neurodiversity (which I seem to keep doing…) it seems that track programs would promote the idea of surrounding oneself academically with others who think alike. So I’m curious to know what everyone else thinks of the teaching all together vs. teaching to similar groups question? Is it worth the loss of a neuraldiverse educational setting to stimulate each brain as rigorously as possible via grouping? Although like Natsu pointed out, those students who are all good at math may actually represent more neuraldiversity than we thought… And what is our current policy saying about promoting all minds to think and learn as much as possible?

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