Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

The Mind Is Not Designed For Thinking

7 Post author: CronoDAS 26 March 2009 09:57PM

There's an interesting article in the latest issue of American Educator: "Why Don't Students Like School? Because the Mind Is Not Designed For Thinking" (pdf).

The general subject is cached thoughts.

Comments (7)

Comment author: Yvain 26 March 2009 11:07:47PM *  11 points [-]

I'd say my problem was less that my mind wasn't designed for thinking than that my school wasn't.

There's a built-in assumption here that school is about developing thinking skills in the first place, whereas as far as I can tell it serves to dull them. If you end up with a more creative answer than the teacher, you're told to do it the "right" way. I remember inventing a faster way to do certain math problems, and being marked wrong on tests because I wasn't doing in the way I'd been taught. Most children naturally seek out knowledge - not just creative knowledge, but the "boring old facts" school teachers are so afraid of. School quashes this in the most effective way possible.

The main principle I take from this article (challenge your students in interesting ways) is pretty good, assuming an educational system completely different from the real one. But, like a lot of educational principles, it requires a lot of intelligence to apply intelligently, and most teachers either aren't smart enough or don't have the time.

Time and time again, I have seen teachers replace the substance of these techniques with the symbol, and ask "edgy" or "creative" sounding questions that annoy students and condescend to them while not teaching them anything substantive. I know because I lived through about a decade of it.

As for his "the mind is not designed for thinking" line, I call ADBOC.

[before anyone asks: I'm not insulting teachers. I spent two years as a teacher myself. I'm just saying some of them aren't up to the job, and the ones who are get bogged down in a system that keeps them from doing much good. Also, I reserve the right to dismiss this all later as an unjustified rant against basically sound cognitive science, but in my defense the full title of the article was about as condescending and offensive to good sense as could possibly be imagined.]

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 26 March 2009 11:12:31PM *  4 points [-]

I'm often glad that my exposure to "schools" was extremely minimal (~5yrs).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 March 2009 11:14:20PM 4 points [-]

Including elementary? Good work - how did you manage?

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 26 March 2009 11:27:03PM 4 points [-]

A few months of kindergarten first, which (for assorted reasons) then motivated about eight years of mostly self-directed homeschooling, followed by about 5 total years of community college + undergraduate university (in which I learned very little). Rounding up I guess 6yrs of typical schooling would be more accurate, but I could probably justify discounting the university years somewhat given that less time is spent in-class and 80% of what I learned I did on my own, outside of coursework.

I've considered grad school but I think at this point I'm too set in my autodidactic ways to adjust to the demands of an academic environment.

Comment author: thomblake 02 April 2009 06:33:28PM *  3 points [-]

I feel I must point to John Taylor Gatto's work - here's an example: Against School - he makes a good case here and elsewhere that the school system was not designed to benefit students, and that it does not coincidentally do any such thing.

Comment author: Annoyance 27 March 2009 05:56:41PM 0 points [-]

As an educator yourself, what would you recommend we do to change things for the better?

Is merely breaking kids out of their academic jails enough?

Comment author: Vladimir_Gritsenko 27 March 2009 07:13:57PM 2 points [-]

I only skimmed the article, but through the glasses of evolutionary biology, the idea that most kids (and adults) aren't interested in being educated is almost trivial. Steven Weinberg once remarked that people are more interesting than electrons, and I think that this is the essence of the relative failure of the education system. It's a wonder anybody at all finds special interest in stuff like ocean currents, fossils and fractals. It's ridiculous to expect most or even a sizable fraction to consciously want to invest in such things when they could be hanging out with their friends or engaging in other socially productive activities.

I understand that there are many philosophies in education, and I wonder if they're just like different schools of psychotherapy. Can anyone point to any relative studies (preferably with large sample-sizes over long periods of time)?