Archive for June, 2010

Aristotle Meets Ockham

June 13, 2010

This wonderful talk on Radio National’s Ockham’s Razor is an apt sequel to A Fable. In it, Queensland educator, Jennifer Riggs, touches on several themes, including ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ science, multiple intelligences, and Attention Deficit Disorder, all in the context of science and the teaching of science.

Einstein and Darwin are described as ‘underachievers’ in terms of conventional schooling, and yet history remembers them rather than their studious and compliant classmates. Riggs suggests that modern schooling favours the latter rather than the former, who are often seen as troublesome:

Is there an ants-in-the-pants gene that makes school so difficult for these seedling scientists and their teachers? Let’s fervently hope that no-one isolates and eliminates it. The world would be a poorer place.

Howard Gardner has shown there are are not just one or two types of intelligence, but many. How are we to accommodate these in our teaching?

One of our major challenges is how to teach the hard to reach, many of whom we know to have great potential as scientists. We are rightly worried about disengaged boys and Aborigines. For them, as for other underachievers, research shows up their strengths. When we understand, we can work with these strengths. Students who know this, gain tremendously in confidence and flexibility. Not to mention capability.

There’s an understanding gap at the heart of the problem of the bright child who should be a happy achiever and is not. Education abhors a vacuum, so let’s get going on it.

Those 3D kids who are ‘auditory blind’ by nature may be perfect little nuisances but have wondrous potential. They see in depth – the third dimension. Some are bright, but seen as uppity, some are bright but can’t spell, or learn by rote, some are clever but dreamy, a lot of them can’t sit still, or are disorganised and untidy – scatterbrains. They are strongly visual, both in the physical, material concrete sense, and through the mind’s eye – imagination. They may be seedling Einsteins, Leonardos, even cosmologists. They are to be cherished. Let’s hope some of them will be the science teachers of the future.

Our treatment of these children needs much closer monitoring than it is getting. Thomas Armstrong is not the only one who has written on the Myth of the ADD Child – full of ‘good ideas that are inexpensive and without side effects’. Thomas G. West has written In the Mind’s Eye ‘on the curious connections between creative ability, visual thinking, academic learning difficulties, and the remarkable people who seem to have embodied these characteristics’. Linda Kreger Silverman has written Upside Down Brilliance about the Visual-Spatial Learner. Call to mind that this is one of the components of intelligence identified by Howard Gardner.

Riggs finishes with a challenge to the education establishment, in terms similar to Ken Robinson’s:

It’s time for a re-think. We are staring down the barrel of an education revolution. I know we can trust the revolutionaries to consult first. But please, please, please don’t let consultation begin and end with people in the ed.biz. Bastilles do need to be stormed and Heads to roll, but first, go and ask Aristotle. He has many of the answers we need.

A Fable

June 4, 2010

I am grateful to Derrin Cramer of Thinking Ahead for bringing this to my attention.

One time the animals had a school. The curriculum consisted of running, climbing, flying and swimming, and all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was good in swimming, better than his instructor, and he made passing grades in flying, but was practically hopeless in running. He was made to stay after school and drop his swimming class in order to practice running. He kept this up until he was only average in swimming. But, average is acceptable, so nobody worried about that but the duck.

The eagle was considered a problem pupil and was disciplined severely. He beat all the others to the top of the tree in the climbing class, but he had used his own way of getting there.

The rabbit started out at the top of his class in running, but had a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of school on account of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel led the climbing class, but his flying teacher made him start his flying lessons from the ground instead of the top of the tree, and he developed charley horses from overexertion at the takeoff and began getting C’s in climbing and D’s in running.

The practical prairie dogs apprenticed their offsprings to a badger when the school authorities refused to add digging to the curriculum.

At the end of the year, an eel that could swim well, run, climb, and fly a little was made valedictorian.

Originally printed in The Instructor, April. 1968. Text copied from here.