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OLPCMEMO4

OLPCMEMO4

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Published by Cynthia Solomon

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Published by: Cynthia Solomon on May 15, 2012
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10/21/2014

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Questioning “General” Education
 
 It is better to solve one problem five different ways, thanto solve five different problems one way.
 
 — 
GeorgePólya
 
Some parents want their schools to prepare their childrenfor future jobs and careers. Other parents want schools toteach specific sets of ideals and beliefs. Some parentseven want their young to learn to develop their own,independent ideas. But regardless of those different goals,
most schools assign most of their pupils‟ time to learning
scattered fragments of knowledge about some so-called
“basic” subjects— 
like reading, writing, arithmetic,science, and tidbits of cultural history
 — 
and then consume
the rest of those children‟s time with incessant tests and
homework assignments.
 
Surely, that kind of “broad education” helps many
children to comprehend many aspects of the worlds
they‟re in. However, I question how well it prepares them
to deal with more complex real-world problems
 — 
becauseit is hard to exploit separate fragments of knowledge until one acquires the mental skills that one needs for retrieving and using the relevant ones.
 
 Nevertheless, although we rarely teach children abouthow minds work, quite a few of them do becomeexperts
 — 
in what we call their amusements and hobbies
 — 
as when they play computer games, or refine their athleticskills, or build structures with construction sets.
 
 
§2.6 of 
The Emotion Machine:
 
The “playfulness” of 
childhood is the most demanding teacher that one could have; it makes us explore our world to see what's there,to try to explain what all those structures are, and toimagine what else could possibly be. Exploring,
explaining and learning must be among a child‟s most 
obstinate drives
 —and never again in those children‟s
lives will anything push them to work so hard.
 
Indeed, some children focus so much on their hobbies thattheir parents fear that this will conflict with their education
 — 
and try to find ways to discourage them.However, this essay will propose, instead, to postpone
“broad” education until each child has had some
experience at becoming an expert in some specialty.
 
Critic: Do you really believe that that‟s feasible?
 
 Howcould a six-year-old child become an expert? Surely one first needs to crawl and then walk before one can beginto run? And surely a child must start with concreteexamples before dealing with more abstract descriptions.
 
On the contrary, some recent experiments weigh againstthat popular belief:
 
Jennifer Kaminski
 
et al: “Transfer of conceptual 
knowledge is more likely to occur after learning a generic instantiation than after learning a concrete one.
… Knowledge acquired through a generic instantiation
can be transferred to a novel isomorph, whileknowledge of a relevantly concrete instantiation does
 
not transfer spontaneously. For relevantly concreteinstantiations, the structural knowledge appears to bebound to the learning domain so that it cannot be easily
recognized elsewhere.”
So here we‟ll propose to re
-aim our schools towardencouraging children to pursue more focused hobbies andspecialties
 — 
to provide them with more time for (andearlier experience with) developing more powerful sets of mental skills, which they later can extend to moreacademic activities. These issues are important becauseour children today are growing up in increasinglycomplex and dangerous worlds
 — 
while our institutions arefailing to teach correspondingly better ways to think. Theresult has been a global pandemic of adults who lack effective ways to deal with increasingly challengingsituations.
 
A Theory of Human Self-Critical Thinking
 
The Emotion Machine
starts with the idea that every brain
contains many “resources,” some of which recognize
various patterns, and others can supervise various actions;yet other resources form goals or plans, and some containlarge bodies of knowledge. Then we envision a mind ascomposed of a multi-l
evel “cognitive tower,” whose
lowest levels are mainly assembled genetically
 — 
whereasthe higher-level processes grow in ways that depend lesson inherited genes, and more on their interactions with theactivities in the levels below them.
 

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