In this week's reading assignment from The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning by James Paul Gee, we explored the idea of why people are stupid and what prevents humans from solving problems in a smart way. Gee is emphatic that in order to think smartly, people need to effectively use the cycle of reflective action when trying something for the first time. This means that a person must have a knowledgeable mentor, prior experience, clear goals, an emotional stake, and the chance to act. If any of these requisites are not met, the person in question will not effectively learn from the experience, making the whole thing moot. If we are not able to learn from experiences and apply what is learned, humans will not be able to solve complex problems.
Gee also argues that formal schooling is not set up to support learning through the cycle of reflective action. Schools limit us because they are formatted so that the learner gains information by reading or listening to language. They are not experiencing the things they learn; instead they are being told about them. If students are not able to plan, experience, and reflect on an idea, they will not internalize it. Schools also have goal setting all wrong. Typically a student’s goal (mine included) is to get good grades and earn a diploma or degree. This type of goal setting does not prepare a student for meaningful learning and often results in rote memorization of facts and short-term recall. When students lack a clear, subject-relevant goal, they are unable to learn the information in a way that will allow them to internalize it and use it in making decisions in regards to future actions or problems. In order to solve the big problems, humans must be able to apply previous experiences to predict, plan, and reflect on the actions that they take, experiences that they are unable to gain in the traditional classroom.
Finally, there is the idea of memory. Gee points out in chapter 3 that memory is not all it is cracked up to be. It is not infallible and not to be trusted as containing the truth. The human mind changes memories in order to make sense of the world around it rather than just storing random details for recall. In order to make our memories useful and valuable in regards to problem solving, we need to be able to link ideas, patterns, and connections in a way that makes recall more accurate and beneficial while also aligning with our goals. Formal schooling does not view the human mind this way; instead schools “demand that humans use their memories the way computers do, rather than the way humans do.” We as educators should not be teaching and testing students based on their memorization of random information; we should be creating meaning for them through goal setting, exploration, experience, and reflection.
It sounds like we are doing everything wrong in education, which honestly probably is not that far-fetched. After being made aware of Gee’s ideas of what fosters stupidity in people, however, I think that there are things that we can do as educators to prepare our students to problem solve smartly. First, we need to make sure that students have an adequate background in the topic. If they do not, then as educators we must prepare them for what they will be learning. We need to be informed about the subject matter we are teaching so we can be effective mentors. The students should have a clear goal, which should be subject relevant and ideally student created. Having students create their goals, in my opinion, allows for ownership in the experience and an emotional stake in learning the information. Getting a good grade on the unit test is not an adequate goal. Finally we need to give the students a chance to act and take part in what they are learning. If educators can strive to provide students with experiences rather than facts, then there is a chance we can stop being so stupid!
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!