Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Balanced Smarts

Here's an excerpt from a book review in the New Yorker:

Reading is a form of explicit learning. When you play a video game, the value is in how it makes you think. Video games are an example of collateral learning, which is no less important.
Being “smart” involves facility in both kinds of thinking—the kind of fluid problem solving that matters in things like video games and I.Q. tests, but also the kind of crystallized knowledge that comes from explicit learning. If Johnson’s book has a flaw, it is that he sometimes speaks of our culture being “smarter” when he’s really referring just to that fluid problem-solving facility. When it comes to the other kind of intelligence, it is not clear at all what kind of progress we are making, as anyone who has read, say, the Gettysburg Address alongside any Presidential speech from the past twenty years can attest. The real question is what the right balance of these two forms of intelligence might look like. “Everything Bad Is Good for You” doesn’t answer that question. But Johnson does something nearly as important, which is to remind us that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that explicit learning is the only kind of learning that matters.
In recent years, for example, a number of elementary schools have phased out or reduced recess and replaced it with extra math or English instruction. This is the triumph of the explicit over the collateral. After all, recess is “play” for a ten-year-old in precisely the sense that Johnson describes video games as play for an adolescent: an unstructured environment that requires the child actively to intervene, to look for the hidden logic, to find order and meaning in chaos.

("Everything Bad is Good for You" by Stephen Johnson, reviewed by Malcolm Gladwell)

So, if we work on Greek and math steadily four days a week, go on hikes, have lunch at various ethnic restaurants with Scott, the kids play together a lot, read some history, get ready for Script Frenzy, dig up worms, use stuff in the garage to create carnival rides for stuffed animals, earn science-related Brownie Try-It badges, label capitals and measure distances on maps of Asia, and play video games, we're learning a lot, right?

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