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Mawrtyr2008's picture

I worked on a research

I worked on a research project this summer in Paul’s lab that deal with many of the issues raised in class and in the forum. My project centered on how changing understandings of the structure and function over time have paralleled changes in the fields of education and mental healthcare. In class, Paul showed this schematic model of different interpretations of the brain. Keeping those diagrams in mind, what interests me is that the current mainstream approach to education still incorporates elements that follow the tabula rasa understanding of the brain (standardized tests, lecture-based classes) even though our understandings of the brain have dramatically changed. It seems to me that a “less wrong” understanding of the brain would focus less on its ability to memorize and more on its ability to create. Unfortunately, pedagogical methods that cater to these interesting functions of the brain aren’t evident to me in many classrooms right now.

An interesting case study to throw into the discussion would be to compare a traditional classroom with a Montessori classroom. It seems to me that the sets of kids in either classroom graduate with very different kinds of skills. Traditional classrooms are often stereotyped as content and test-oriented while Montessori classrooms are conversely stereotyped as process and learning-oriented. Furthermore, traditional classrooms are known to segregate students based on perceived ability (whatever that means and however that’s determined apart from standardized tests remains unclear to me) while Montessori classrooms are all about integrating kids of different ages, interests, and skill levels.

This summer, along with Ian Morton, I also participated in the Summer Sciences Institute, a seminar for K-12 teachers. In these series of discussions, one of the things that seemed of affect teachers the most was when Paul described them as neurosurgeons. Although it sounds peculiar, it makes sense because teaching and learning are terms used to describe specific changes in the structure and function of the brain. This leads me to wonder if teachers knew more about the brain and how it works, whether that knowledge would have a meaningful impact on the way they teach.

As I’ve mentioned before in another forum, efficiency seems to be a critical component to any realistic discussion of education reform. It’s hard for me to talk about these ideas in a comprehensive way because I always get bogged down in the logistics of social stratification, power, money, and efficiency. In this light, perhaps a critique of education is more a critique of capitalism in general?

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