Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Thoughts on Schooling and Neurology

I read an interesting book covering all kinds of topics related to neuroplasticity, that is the growing scientific understanding that the brain can change in structure in function. It is The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. The book covered brain injury, mental and emotional disorders, pain, sexual attraction and love, and a number of other topics.

One chapter, on severe learning disabilities and a woman who had developed "brain exercises" which are highly effective in improving them, contained an idea which I thought was interesting and which seemed to support the claims of some "Classical" curriculum proponents. The author noted how some older schooling practices were quite similar to these highly effective brain exercises:
The irony of this new discovery is that for hundreds of years educators did seem to sense that children's brains had to be built up through exercises of increasing difficulty that strengthened brain functions. Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probably helped strengthen motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking.
Doidge wasn't advocating classical homeschooling, but is suggesting that assessments of strengths and weaknesses could and the use of well designed exercises to increase abilities could become a standard part of education. Yeah, I'd like to see that.

At the same time, this quote seems to support the claims of many "classical method" advocates, such as Laura Berquist who founded the Mother of Divine Grace school and developed their curricula, that memorization and the other classical methologies, like copywork and dictation, develop and prepare the child's mind for learning. Anyway, interesting thoughts.

Last year I'd planned on using Berquist's suggestions from her book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum with Pauly for K, but they ended up falling by the wayside. Not because they were difficult or didn't work for us, but because I'm lazy and unorganized. This year I went ahead and purchased the MODG 1st Grade syllabus, maybe with more of a plan I'll stick with it better. At least nearly everything they recommend is reusuable so I'm not wasting money.


  1. That is VERY interesting. We are working our way slowly toward doing copywork and the like, and here is more support for that choice. Thanks!

  2. I wonder if you had had such schooling, if you would be less "lazy and forgetful"?

  3. If you haven't seen Susanne Jaeggi's study on Training Working Memory (PNAS), you may want to check it out. Jaeggi's team recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) of up to 50% after 19 days of focused training with a dual n-back progressive method.

    I was so impressed that I developed a software program using the same method so that anyone can achieve these improvements at home.
    (IQ Training Program)



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