School Reform: The
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board
of Psychiatry and Neurology
One group of classes that I did
not regret taking in high school was English. (Another was civics.)
In fact, I get very nostalgic about my experiences in those classes.
Though it didn't occur to me at the time, because I was an avid
scientist, those classes were fun. They were relaxed, interactive, and
unforced. Sometimes we gave oral book reports in front of the
|which was a good experience. Speaking in
front of a group was definitely educational. The following is the
first in a series of book reports on topics related to school reform.
The Unschooled Mind was written by Howard Gardner, Professor of
Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Mr. Gardner
states that without the help of a grammar book or a trained language
instructor, all normal children readily acquire the language spoken in
their vicinity. In fact if many languages are spoken, children can
learn them all. Furthermore, during the first years of life,
youngsters all over the world master a breathtaking array of
competencies with little formal training. They become proficient
in singing songs, riding bikes, and dancing. They can throw and
catch balls. They are able to deceive someone else in a game, even
as they can recognize when someone is trying to play a trick on them.
They develop clear senses of truth and falsity, right and wrong, and
beautiful and ugly.
Nonetheless, these same children frequently encounter difficulties
when they enter school. Tasks
assigned in an academic setting and attached to a grade are often
burdensome and met with resistance. Somehow the natural,
universal, or intuitive learning that takes place in one's home or
immediate surroundings, seems of an entirely different order from
classroom learning that is now required throughout the literate world.
Mr. Gardner contends
that even when schools seem to
be successful, they usually fails to
achieve their most important missions. Evidence for this comes
from an overwhelming body of educational research that has been
assembled over the last decade, much of which claims that even when
students score well on tests and receive good grades,
they typically do not display an adequate
understanding of the materials and concepts with which they have been
working. He goes on to give a number of examples. This section is
the book's greatest strength.
I found this part of the book
very helpful and consistent with my own
experiences. But at this point, the author
describes a complex theory which he calls the unschooled mind, which he
offers to explain this phenomenon. He explains this theory in
terms that are so intellectual and complex that it would be difficult if
not impossible to apply it in a classroom. There are numerous side
journeys into the history of western thought that reminded me of my
college days. Adding these relics of the past simply
overcomplicated the issue.
I think that if you cannot explain an idea simply
and plainly, then you probably
don't understand it yourself. There is a word that is used in
psychiatry called "circumstantial," that is used to describe a person's
thought processes. The humorous, plain-English definition, is that
you ask someone what time it is, they tell you how to build a watch.
Furthermore, they still haven't told you what time it is. Yet the
author does begin with a partial definition and description of the
problem. It is useful confirmatory evidence.
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