Parents

If I were trying to select a school system for my children . . ."

CJ Westerberg, January 21, 2015 5:45 PM

HowardGardner5pg.jpg

A classic post from The Daily Riff.

"Of course, we do know a great deal about
what actually brings about strong achievements
in education around the world: . . . 

  • awareness of the changing nature of knowledge and the need to prepare learners for an uncertain future;    . . .
                - Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education

The Ministers' Misconceptions
Howard Gardner
The GoodWork Project
Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Copyright © 2010


The Ministers' Misconceptions

Of all the findings from cognitive psychology that are relevant for education, one that stands out is the repeated demonstration, across a number of disciplines, of the prevalence of misconceptions and the difficulty of getting rid of them and replacing them with more powerful and more veridical conceptions.

The most famous examples occur in physics.  Students at outstanding universities, who have studied the laws of motion and have done well on standardized measures of achievement in physics, are asked to explain a new phenomenon - one that they have not studied but one governed by the laws of motion. Not only do these star students typically fail on these performances of understanding, but more dramatically, their responses are often indistinguishable from those obtained from students who have never studied physics. Comparable examples can be found in biology, astronomy, psychology, economics - indeed across the disciplinary spectrum.

These difficulties can be blamed in part on inadequate instruction, but they also reflect a disturbing reality. When young, without the need for formal instruction, nearly all human beings develop "folk theories" of how the world works:  the physical world (if an object is broken into tiny, no-longer-visible parts, it ceases to exist);  the biological world (all organisms were created at a single, pre-historical moment) and the social world (people who look different from me are to be feared and shunned).

More effective theories can only be constructed in the mind of the learner through effective teaching and significant involvement with the materials (object, data) for which the disciplinary understandings are appropriate.

Nowadays almost everyone goes to school. And even in the remaining unschooled societies, there is informal tuition. Nonetheless, misconceptions continue to hold sway.
Here are the some of the powerful misconceptions about learning and teaching that characterize the folk theories of human beings:


1.  Education involves the transmission of ideas and skills from older and more
     powerful persons to those who are younger and under the control of their elders.

2.  The young mind is a blank slate on which correct ideas and needed skills need to be implanted.

3.  Learning should occur bit by bit; to the extent possible, errors should be identified, discouraged, corrected.

4.  The best way to teach - indeed, the only effective way - is to reward correct answers and punish wrong ones. On any dimension worth considering, you can array people from the best to the worst (a so-called "league table").

5.  If someone does not do what you want them to do, just ask them to do it, louder and louder, over and over again.

Now, since misconceptions like this are part of the human condition, it is not surprising that most children and most parents believe them. But that does not mean they are correct, any more than that the world is flat or that all creatures were created at the same moment. Indeed, considerable social-scientific research over the last century calls each of these so-called truisms into severe question. 

It might seem reasonable to expect that those who are in charge of educational policy should have moved beyond these misconceptions. And indeed, if engaged in quiet discussion, at least some policymakers reveal their awareness of the research. And yet, in observing ministers of education all over the world, I find them remarkably tied to these powerful, though erroneous ideas. Indeed, I sometimes think that for most Ministers of Education, their only goal is to improve the performance of their nation in the international comparisons, independent of the worth or utility of that comparison. In fact, I've recently encountered a new ironical twist on this: The absolute standing of Scotland is less important than its relative position vis-a-vis England. Better to be 20th if Britain is 21st, than to be 10th if Britain is 9th. 

Going beyond this "league table" mentality, I am constantly surprised at the persistence, in ministerial talk and writing, of allegiance to:

  • the "transmission theory" of education;
  • the focus on rewards (even monetary ones) and punishment;
  • the notion that the best questions have a single correct answer and a resulting suspicion of multiple plausible answers, productive errors, creative leaps, etc; and
  • the preferred solution to poor performance on tests - the administration of more and more tests. It is like the misguided belief that if the patient is sick, the royal road to health involves repeating measurement of temperature.

I don't mean to demean all Ministers of Education. As already suggested, some of them know better, and a few try to do better. It may be that there is something about the air in the ministries of the world, and in their all-too-frequent meetings with one another, which reinforces the worst of these misconceptions and repeats them endlessly to the public at large.

Of course, we do know a great deal about what actually brings about strong achievements in education around the world: 

  • plausible goals, understood and subscribed to by the range of constituents;
  • awareness of the changing nature of knowledge and the need to prepare learners for an uncertain future;
  • respect for teachers who, because of their knowledge of content and pedagogy and sensitivity to individual differences, merit respect;
  • regular parental involvement;
  • instilling in young people a love for learning that endures throughout life, even when no one is looking.

If I were trying to select a school system for my children or grandchildren, I'd beware of Ministers bearing misconceptions, I'd look instead for ones who understand these equally simply, and yet surprisingly elusive powerful ideas.

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Among numerous honors, he has received honorary degrees from twenty-two colleges and universities, and is author of over twenty books translated into twenty-seven languages, and several hundred articles.  Gardner is best known in educational circles for his theory of multiple intelligences.

Gardner's newest book, Five Minds for the Future, outlines the specific cognitive abilities
that will be sought and cultivated by leaders in the years ahead and provides examples from history, politics, business, science and the arts to inspire lifelong learning.  His full biography can be seen here.

###
Previously Published by The Daily Riff - January 2010
Bold emphasis added by editors.

Related posts by The Daily Riff:

Harvard Kids:  Life on Speed Dial

How to Teach So Kids Can Learn To Understand -
Harvard Professor David Perkins, School of Education


###


Enhanced by Zemanta
  • It's good that you were able to post this kind of information especially that there are many parents who wanted to have the best education for their children.

blog comments powered by Disqus
The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.
Alvin Toffler
Follow The Daily Riff on Follow TDR on Twitter

find us on facebook

book.reading.nonreader.jpg

How to Create Nonreaders

CJ Westerberg, 01.24.2015

Why Johnnie and Jane don't like to read . . . and what to do about it
Alfie Kohn Delivers a Powerful Essay About MOTIVATION & Learning

Read Post | Comments

Riffing good stories

question.red.jpg

Would You Hire Your Own Kids? 7 Skills Schools Should Be Teaching Them

CJ Westerberg, 01.23.2015

Tony Wagner, Former HS teacher, Principal & Co-Director At Harvard School Of Education Posts. "The Ability To Ask The Right Questions Is The Single Most Important Skill."

Read Post | Comments
maui.surfers.JSB.jpg

Shaping Serendipity for Learning: Conversations with John Seely Brown

CJ Westerberg, 01.22.2015

"Conventional wisdom holds that different people learn in different ways. Something is missing from that idea, however, so we offer a corollary: Different people, when presented with exactly the same information in exactly the same way, will learn different things." - John Seely Brown

Read Post | Comments
recipe.7.john.holt.jpg

Seven Questions: Is your child a recipe-follower or a real learner?

CJ Westerberg, 01.21.2015

"It may help to have in our minds a picture of what we mean by understanding . . . "-John Holt, Why Children Fail, p. 177by C.J. WesterbergI recently had a loooong conversation with a parent about whether his child...

Read Post | Comments
HowardGardner6pg.jpg

If I were trying to select a school system for my children . . ."

CJ Westerberg, 01.21.2015

"If I were trying to select a school system for my children or grandchildren, I'd beware of . . . ." - Howard Gardner, Harvard School of Education

Read Post | Comments
explosion.jpg

The Day I Abolished Grading

CJ Westerberg, 01.21.2015

"There was no love for learning. It was a game that I was perpetuating - and I was done perpetuating it." Joe Bower

Read Post | Comments
monkeysee.Jaymathews.Washingtonpost.jpg

Parents: Are we sabotaging our own kids' math "ability"?

CJ Westerberg, 01.19.2015

Many parents in the United States assume that (math ability) is just some kind of aptitude - some kids have it, some kids don't . . . The result is most of our kids (in the U.S.) don't do really well in Math . . ."

Read Post | Comments
JohnnyDepp.entrepreneurship.jpg

Entrepreneurs: Pirates in the Arena

CJ Westerberg, 01.14.2015

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . .

Read Post | Comments
MovieSet.jpg

Tom Friedman: Think Like an Immigrant

CJ Westerberg, 01.13.2015

Five Ways to Succeed in Life and Work

Read Post | Comments

More Featured Posts