How Children What?
May 27, 2014 10:52 AM   Subscribe

"John Holt and Paul Tough are a half-century apart. Both were interested in children and how they learned. One wrote a book called How Children Learn, the other a book called How Children Succeed. Their juxtaposition has a lot to tell us about how we think about and treat our young people."
posted by overeducated_alligator (11 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
i was only able to skim this right now but I thought it was an incredible post - I look forward to coming back for a deeper read later.
posted by rebent at 11:06 AM on May 27, 2014

This is a fantastic link...thanks...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:09 AM on May 27, 2014

Semiotically, Holt now parses as hippie, especially given his position as father of the United States homeschooling movement.
Huh? I mean, sure, there are 'hippie' homeschoolers, but I'd say the typical stereotype is much more right-wing, evangelical, and conservative.
posted by yoink at 11:10 AM on May 27, 2014

ARGH. This is not a person who is to be trusted with a discussion of science, or even "scientism."

from TFA:
"the faux scientific language of neurobiology and psychology"
"I’ve nothing against reflection or science or even cognitive behavioral therapy."
"You fall in love with someone’s mind. You gamify someone’s brain. Minds meet. Brains collide."

WHAT? This is like, well, whatever the converse of "scientism" is, and it's just as given to poorly supported rhetoric.
posted by synapse at 11:20 AM on May 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Huh? I mean, sure, there are 'hippie' homeschoolers, but I'd say the typical stereotype is much more right-wing, evangelical, and conservative.

I know a lot of hippie types who home-schooled their kids. I think the more vocal ones who mug for media time may be more on the right, but it is more diverse than what is often presented...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:31 AM on May 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Huh? I mean, sure, there are 'hippie' homeschoolers, but I'd say the typical stereotype is much more right-wing, evangelical, and conservative.

Even conservative, evangelical homeschoolers can end up parsing as hippie and countercultural in a lot of their activities. I was homeschooled; my father helped found the Christian Coalition chapter in our town, and canvassed up and down our state for every one of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaigns, but also we raised sheep and chickens and made our own clothes and grew our own food and didn't have a television set. Culturally we had as much, if not more, in common with the radical hippies who also homeschooled in our area than we did with your typical Republican who lived in the suburbs.

I'm quite familiar, from my childhood, with the writings of John Holt, and I find this article really interesting in a way I'm not yet able to articulate.
posted by gauche at 11:44 AM on May 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I mean, sure, there are 'hippie' homeschoolers, but I'd say the typical stereotype is much more right-wing, evangelical, and conservative.

In my experience, for what its worth, the homeschoolers I know fall largely into 2 broadly defined groups - the religious and the not religious. Also a large demographic in my circle are parents of children who would be on the autism spectrum and/or have a variety of behavioural and learning challenges. Hippie vs conservative can broadly describe these groups but as we discovered as we tried to connect with a community of homeschoolers there was a lot of nuances. Frankly, we found it to be like navigating social groups in a large high school.

Every unschooler I've met (not the same thing as homeschooler) was universally a "hippie" (in that left leaning socially progressive sense) and had some very strong dogmatic beliefs centring them.

In anycase, Holt was my window into homeschooling and I do have some affection for him.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:51 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Synapse I actually really enjoyed that bit. I'm 100% into science (I studied behavioral psychology which was heavily weighted towards lab and applied research) and I think that we "science wizards" are letting the true power of science be dragged through the mud by "science magicians" or better yet "science charlatans." I'm all for using very precise science language when doing science, but I believe it's used to do science 5% of the time, used by people who don't know what they're talking about 60% of the time, and used to hoodwink the public 35% of the time.

I don't think one can understand the world deeply by learning jargon. I think jargon is the natural outcome of gaining a deep understanding of the world, collaboratively. Many people hear a jargon world and connect it to a superficial, misleading, or wrong understanding that does not go deep.

I think that's harmful.
posted by rebent at 1:17 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rebent - I completely agree that spouting jargon, particularly incorrectly, is harmful and can be used to deceive. (I have done quite a bit of neuroscience outreach, talking to people from grade school kids to corporations about the brain, and so think about this often.) However, the author clearly reveals that he does not think highly of the real science either. And some handwave-y philosophy about the distinction between the brain and mind, in an article that just criticized someone for relying too much on published articles sets off amazing warning bells. By drawing this distinction, the author is implicitly (hell, explicitly?) dismissing brain science by dismissing the brain's relevance. In the context of education! I suppose that dismissing neuroscience might be better than deliberately misusing it, but that's a pretty low bar to set.

I think there are some individual good points made. I think this person has biases that make me nervous about the overall argument and its credibility.

(Also, what if someone knows the science and is trying to share it in a positive way? Should they stop trying to be precise, and accurate because it's "too science-y"?)
posted by synapse at 2:08 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You make some good points, I'll keep them in mind while I re-read.

Personally I am very supportive of people being questioning of science. In my perspective, capital-S Science is not a thing in of itself so much as it is a method for getting to truth. But in our world, "science" is so politicized, with so many missteps and false positives, that I think it's very reasonable for some people to question it, even if they accidentally throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not that that's a good thing, but I think it's reasonable.

For example, I question a lot of neuroscience and cognitive psychology myself because it itself seems very hand-wavey to me. But I come from the behavioral perspective, which has been cast aside for longer than I've been alive. So I am very much a proponent of understanding that people can disagree about what counts as good science, and that's OK.

(And to answer your question, I think it's all about knowing your audience. I have two degrees in psychology, but if you wanted to talk to me about psycho dynamics, you'd have to revert to an elementary level because I know so little about it. Same as you can't just tell a grandpa to "Kill the exe from the task manager", you also can't tell a lay person "Compare the delta over time for individuals")
posted by rebent at 7:19 PM on May 27, 2014

For those fretting about the essay writer's apparent attitude towards science -- my take was that he was lumping Paul Tough and How Children Succeed in with the currently popular Malcom Gladwell-style contrarian-insight model of popular nonfiction:
Having set up "the consensus" Tough proceeds, TED style, to promise he will "[overturn] conventional wisdom with something new and mysterious."
The essay then critiques this approach for "unwittingly... proposing policies and a frame for education which—if taken seriously—will accelerate the already central role school plays in cultivating an underclass in America."

The author seems to have no problem with science per se; he merely argues it has little to tell us about the role of education in society (or, the proper philosophy of education), and in fact can be misapplied with destructive results.
posted by dotrob at 1:45 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

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