Saturday, April 17, 2010

Creating an Alzheimer’s generation

My background as a Kindermusik teacher has given me a fair amount of experience with young children. So I am well aware of how important positive and negative feedback is to early childhood learning and development. (Telling a toddler that the fire his hot does not actually mean anything until he has experienced what heat is. Only then is there a negative feedback reinforcement to add value to the explanation.) But I had never thought through the implications of our school systems on this development.

Recently one of my staff finished his masters degree in future studies, with an emphasis on predicting how trends will develop. One of the trends he was analysing, is the concept of how our education system will affect people over the long term.

So-called “modern” educational theorists - by which of course we mean baby boomer fanatics stuck in the 60s or 70s - have constructed an education system without consequences. There is no rote learning, and therefore no development of memory. There is no correct answer, and therefore no positive feedback. There is no failing, and therefore no negative feedback. In fact there are none of the things which early childhood education shows that are absolutely vital to brain development.

(Before I am shouted down for exaggeration, I probably should give a couple of examples. While teaching in the UK my mother was criticised by her principals for daring to write anything resembling negative feedback. She came up with the phrase, “Simon has enjoyed a very relaxed term”. This of course simply meant that Simon had not bothered to attend class. Another of my ex-staff, who went on to do their own teacher training, was recently told by his school that he must write reports for students he had never met. Apparently having their name on the role is adequate to get a pass mark, even if they never actually darkened the threshold of the school. He did however finally have to introduce one senior student to the idea that there were in fact limits. When the student repeatedly failed to turn up to a necessary examination, despite warnings that it was necessary for promotion to the final year of schooling: he had the great pleasure of informing that student that after 15 years of school they had finally found a threshold that actually had consequences. Naturally, the student, and their parents, were so shocked that they threatened to sue the system.)

So the supposed “modernists” have achieved for the education system all the benefits that Marxism achieved the economies of Eastern Europe. Almost total destruction of anything of value. This morning’s paper was bemoaning, yet again, inadequate language and maths skills amongst employees (making the automatic assumption that they are all immigrants from below English backgrounds, without bothering to note that the statistical numbers of uneducated and illiterate people are a far higher percentage of the population than the number of immigrants). The most disastrous result being the steadily increasing number of workplace injuries amongst those who cannot read or understand safety instructions.

It is a long-term perspective though, that is really terrifying. If the human brain never goes through the memory training, repetition training, and positive and negative feedback system responses, and then it does not develop properly. If you remove such feedback is from the education system, students come out with a greatly impoverished ability to memorise, or process. Not only do they have a much harder time trying to comprehend the safety instructions, they have a much harder time processing the new information as the world changes around them. The brain has in fact not been adequately programmed to deal with change.

Even worse, the safeguards with-in the brain that allow for re-routing in the case of damage, have been debilitated by exactly the wrong form of practices. This will become far more significant when these people reach the age of strokes or dementia.

The effect of trying to overturn millions of years of human development for some crazy feel- good theoretical concept (which every realistic assessment has revealed to be a failure), is that the students who have suffered the indignity is of such an appalling excuse for an education system face an unpalatable future. Physically our practical sciences may well continue to keep their bodies working longer and longer, but mentally our pseudo-sciences will have ensured that they will live many of those years in an increasing mental haze as they experience a vast increase in outbreaks of what we would have to classify as dementia.

I have never been particularly enamoured of the concept of the “the decline and fall” of civilisations through their own arrogance and stupidity, but this sample is simply too good a jest to pass up.

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