2002 : WHAT IS YOUR QUESTION? ... WHY?

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Psychologist and Biologist, Harvard University: Author, Moral Minds
How will the sciences of the mind constrain our theories and policies of education?

 

In several recent meetings that I have attended, I have been overwhelmed by the rift between what the sciences of mind, brain and behavior have uncovered over the past decade, and both how and what science educators teach.

In many arenas, educators hold on to a now dated view of the child's cognitive development, failing to appreciate the innate biases that our species has been equipped with. These biases constrain not only what the child can learn, but when it might most profitably learn such things. Take, for instance, the acquisition of mathematical knowledge. Educators aim for the acquisition of precise computations. There is now, however, evidence for an innately available approximate number system, one that operates spontaneously without education.

One might imagine that if educators attempted to push this system first — teaching children that 40 is a better answer to 25 + 12 than is 60 — that it might well facilitate the acquisition of the more precise system later in development. Similar issues arise in attempting to teach children about physics and biology. At some level, then, there must be a way for those in the trenches to work together with those in the ivory tower to advance the process of learning, building on what we have discovered from the sciences of the mind.