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Paul Grobstein's picture

Medium range inferences and sitzflesh, across two cultures

Yep, students in the sciences too worry that learning "about" something might "ruin their appreciation". They key here, I suspect on all fronts, is to effectively convey an understanding that what inquiry (into anything) does isn't to end questioning but rather to open new questions and hence create new appreciations. See Brian Greene re science education in a recent NYTimes, and my commentary on it. Greene is, not surprisingly, a little chauvinistic ("Science is the greatest of all adventure stories"), but does urge that science be given its "rightful place along side music, art, and literature". So maybe we could say that "all inquiry is the greatest of adventure stories" and teach it as such?

Along these lines, I think you're making an important point both in emphasizing Willingham's "medium range inferences", and in linking it to the "boredom and disinengagement" matter. Perhaps as teachers (of whatever subjects) we could all learn that boredom isn't a failing in students (or in ourselves) but rather a useful indication that the interaction outside a productive inference range (either because things are too obvious OR because they are not engageable with)? Maybe if we got that right, even in introductory courses, we'd find we have to rely less on sitzflesh?


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