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Do Our Schools Teach "Cognitive Tools?"

Posted May 20 2009 1:24pm
In this age of high-stakes testing, schools focus on telling students WHAT to learn. How well do they teach students HOW to learn? ... not very well in my experience both as a middle-school curriculum developer and as a university science professor. I ran across a review of a new book entitled "The Future of Education. Re-imagining Our Schools from the Ground Up." The book apparently focuses on three goals of education: 1) socialization, 2) mastery of information, and 3) promotion of mental development. The book's author emphasizes a need to re-orient these goals around teaching "cognitive tools." Neuroscience is expected to reveal what those tools are, and it is the job of the school to teach those cognitive tools. Have schools even identified a set of cognitive tools? I know they don't explicitly appear in the national science standards. Communication between neuroscientists and school teachers is limited--they live in two different worlds. Moreover, the educational culture is not amenable to major change, especially one that requires teachers to re-orient their basic approach to teaching.

An example that I have mentioned before is the need to teach students how to memorize more effectively, using for example, the principles in my book. Few teachers teach memorization skills, and many have a prejudice against doing so. Also, it is increasingly clear that teaching students to increase the span of their working memory will raise student IQ and problem-solving skills. Yet I know of no school system or teacher that does that. Memorization skills are not tested on standardized tests and therefore are not taught. Real reform is a long way off. Many politicians and teachers think the solution for school reform is more money. Wrong!

Source: Egan, K. 2008. The Future of Education. Reimagining Our Schools from the Ground Up. Yale University Press. New Have, Ct. 203 p.
Remember, to get a full understanding of this post, you need the book, Thank You Brain for All You Remember.
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