“Learning consists of taking things that are strange and unnatural, such as reading and algebra, and absorbing them so steadily that they become automatic. That frees up the conscious mind to work on new things. Alfred North Whitehead saw this learning process as a principle of progress: ‘Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them.’
“Automaticity is achieved through repetition… It is far better to go over material for a little bit, repetitively, on five consecutive nights than it is to cram in one long session the night before an exam.
“Ms. Taylor wanted Harold to slip back into the best learning rhythm. A child in a playroom instinctively understands how to explore. She starts with Mom, and then ventures forth in search of new toys. She returns to Mom for security and then repeats her ventures forth. Then it’s back to Mom and out again to explore.
“The same principle applies to learning in high school and beyond. It is a process of what Richard Ogle, the author of Smart World, calls reach and reciprocity. Start with the core knowledge in the field, then venture out and learn something new. Then come back and reintegrate the new morsel with what you already know. Then venture out again. Then return. Back and forth. Again and again. As Ogle argues, too much reciprocity and you wind up in an insular rut. Too much reach and your efforts are scattershot and fruitless. Ms. Taylor wanted to slip Harold into this rhythm of expansion and integration.”
Brooks, D. (2011). The social animal: The hidden sources of love, character, and achievement (p. 87). New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
“Ms. Taylor wanted to impart knowledge, the sort of stuff that shows up on tests. But within weeks, students forget 90 percent of the knowledge they learn in class anyway. The only point of being a teacher is to do more then impart facts; it’s to shape the way students perceive the world, to help a student absorb the rules of a discipline. The teachers who do that get remembered.
“She didn’t so much teach them as apprentice them. Much unconscious learning is done through imitation. She exhibited a way of thinking through a problem and then hoped her students participated along with her.
“She forced them to make mistakes. The pain of getting things wrong and the effort required to overcome error creates an emotional experience that helps burn things into the mind.
“She tried to get students to interrogate their own unconscious opinions. Making up your mind, she believed, is not like building a wall. It’s more a process of discovering the idea that already exists unconsciously. She wanted kids to try on different intellectual costumes to see what fit.
“She also forced them to work. For all her sentimentality, she did not believe in the notion that students should just follow their natural curiosity. She gave them homework assignments they did not want to do. She gave them frequent tests, intuitively sensing that the act of retrieving knowledge for a test strengthens the relevant networks in the brain. She was willing to be hated.
“Ms. Taylor’s goal was to turn her students into autodidacts. She hoped to give her students a taste of the emotional and sensual pleasure discovery brings – the jolt of pleasure you get when you work hard, suffer a bit, and then something clicks. She hoped her students would become addicted to this process. They would become, thanks to her, self-teachers for the rest of their days. That was the grandiosity with which Ms. Taylor conceived of her craft.”
Brooks, D. (2011). The social animal: The hidden sources of love, character, and achievement (pp. 82-83). New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
The winter season is filled with beloved traditions. Nostalgic memories of people, places, emotions, music, and more. Who am I? I am years of making family recipe cookies, of helping Dad put up the lights, the jingle and the jangle of sleigh bells and loose change, holiday walks along the gulf, piano in a loosely packed sanctuary. I am my parents’ son, my sisters’ brother, my girlfriend’s partner. Even if not returning home or continuing with cherished traditions this year, it is hard not to reflect on those people dear to us, what we hold most important in our lives, and what we have experienced throughout the concluding year.
But we cannot stay on vacation or eat peppermint ice cream all day. There is such a fresh, thrilling feeling when we begin something new, perhaps memorialized with the celebration of each new year. There is a romance to diving into new projects, new self-improvement routines, new outlooks, new everything. Who am I? I am also an aspiring professional, a budding writer, a curious musician, an optimistic athlete. There are new people to meet, new depths for relationships to reach. Our new intentions have little value if they do not produce real changes. The challenge is when the romantic period plateaus. Losing resolve for our New Year’s resolutions could be considered a failure of will, but it would be more productive to consider it a failure of design. How else could you have structured your resolutions, how could overcoming personal resistance have been better incentivized, how could people have been incorporated or your environment adapted in order to improve your chances of success? One great aspect of humanity is not our individual intelligence, but that we live in networks and cultural institutions, that we can change our surroundings. We make a smart world so that we can be dumb.