February 10, 2006

Fighting extremism by ending rote learning.

Egypt is reforming education to shift away from rote memorization and toward critical thinking:
Young people who learn by rote, say some education experts, are more easily manipulated and indoctrinated. Under an improved education system, students will learn tolerance and open-mindedness, some say. But others argue that tempering religious extremism is more complicated.

"So much is involved in the problem of preventing extremism," says one foreign development agency expert, who was not authorized to speak on the record. "It's not just a question of stopping rote memorization in schools."
I understand this cynicism, but, surely, rote education is a key part of the problem of terrorism, and learning how to think is a benefit in itself. Yet do we Americans, who have shunned rote learning for so long, really have such a wonderful capacity for critical thinking? I think we do, much more than we tend to appreciate, because it is so normal. We're skeptical of anyone trying to sell us anything, and we can't stop criticizing anyone with any power who tries to accomplish anything.

Go ahead and prove my point by telling me what bullshit this is.

37 comments:

Meade said...

Brilliant, insightful, and complex, as usual!
Brilliant, insightful, and complex, as usual!
Brilliant, insightful, and complex, as usual!
Brilliant, insightful, and complex, as usual!
Brilliant, insightful, and complex, as usual!
Brilliant, insightful, and complex, as usual!

David said...

lol, thats a little intemperate.

You learn penmenship through....rote learning

You learn typing through...rote learning

You learn grammer rules through...rote learning

You learn math facts through...rote learning

You learn facts through ..... rote learning.

Rote learning is a vital componant of education. Once you have learned some basic facts, you then have the basis for being creative.

So...have I proved you right?

Jen Bradford said...

I think there's a real critical thinking deficit on the political Left at the moment. Instapundit recently linked to a post of yours about the way people on the left tended to take an adversarial stance with you rather than construct an argument.

I think its biggest downfall is that tendency to take a moralistic versus analytic view of politics. The assumption is that it's unnecessary to spell out something that should be obvious to right-minded people. Too many positions are regarded as sacrosanct and therefore out of bounds for debate (abortion, affirmative action, etc.) which isn't the case on the Right - stereotypes notwithstanding.

As a moderate, that's one quality on the Left that alienates the hell out of me. Most of the people in my life are far more politically liberal than I am, but simply assume I'm on the same page because they like me. I don't know any conservatives who would make that sort of assumption.

Lars said...
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Lars said...

Rote has its place; just dump that creepy head-rocking.

knoxgirl said...

Well, if they stop teaching people that everyone who's not Muslim is an infidel, that might help too.

Jacques Cuze said...

Egypt is reforming education to shift away from rote memorization and toward critical thinking: rote memorization no child left behind

Ann Althouse said...

As long as we're doing post revivals (as Jen mentioned and I just wrote about in a newer post), here's an old post of mine about rote memorization, which has some positive things to say about it.

SippicanCottage said...
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Henry said...

I've just been rereading John Allen Paulos' classic book on math Inummeracy. He points out the problem with rote learning in math is that students don't learn when or why to apply what they think they know. This leads to the classic fear of the math "word" problem that causes "smart" students to freeze up.

Jacques Cuze said...

I would like to think that American Citizens are better at critical thinking than other peoples, but my education in psychology, in marketing techniques, in mathematics, in economics, and experience in electoral politics tells me otherwise.

Do you have any evidence, or just your own anecdotes?

And do you think you could frame your posts so that folks would be able to disagree with you without being accused of just trying to attack you?

Jacques Cuze said...

If American's were so good at critical thinking, would PIPA have found in 2003 that 60 percent of the people held fundamental misperceptions about the war in Iraq and the links to Al Qaeda?

And that more Republicans than Democrats and more Fox News Viewers than NPR Viewers and more Law Professor Bloggers than engineering blog commenters held these absolutely incorrect views?

Again, if you have evidence, post it. Otherwise, please refrain from more rote bloviating and table pounding.

Thank you.

-Peder said...

Rote learning probably still has it's useful place in education. The real differance is the willingness to ask why? When policies change at work we asky "why are they changing this?". We question answers that are given to us.
And Quxxo, lots of American citizens also believe things false things like 'Iraq was a kite flying utopia before we invaded'. I'd guess those people aren't as prone to watch Fox.

Henry said...

Actually, quxxo, my experience in child education, brain surgery, NASCAR racing, and sheep shearing tells me that nobody is all that good at critical thinking.

It's an uphill struggle.

SippicanCottage said...
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reader_iam said...

Let's hear it for non-critical thinking.

Stream-of-consciousness, baby!

Sorry; listening to R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It." At full volume.

(And I feel fine ... )

; )

reader_iam said...

Was that too "OT"?

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RogerA said...

I think david is on to something there--thinking critically is great, but you need to think critically about something, and often that something is acquired by rote learning--looks to me like there is a bit of a false dichotomy going on about the learning process.

the first derivative of sin(x2) (x squared) is 2x(cosx2)--that answer comes from memorizing the chain rule. the critical thinking part is recognizing what the function to be differentiated is in the first place.

Kirk Parker said...

Henry,

John Allen Paulos is unquestionably a Good Guy™ and I don't think I actually have a copy of Innumeracy nor the time to go browse in it if I did, so I just have to take your word that your paraphrase is accurate. If so, I'd very much disagree with it: he's pointing out, not the problem with "rote learning", and not really even a problem with it, but only a problem with it when its the only method employed. The very desirable goal of teaching how and when to use X does not imply we can't or should teach the basic facts about X, too!

Henry said...

Kirk -- You're absolutely right. I should have been clearer.

Since I have a copy of the book in my backpack, here's an appropriate quote:

Elementary schools by and large do manage to teach the basic algorithms for multiplication and division, addition and subtraction, as well as methods for handling fractions, decimals, and percentages. Unfortunately, they don't do as effective a job in teaching when to add or subtract, when to multiply or divide, or how to convert from fractions to decimals or percentages. Seldom are arithmetic problems integrated into other schoolwork -- how much, how far, how old, how many. Older students fear word problems in part because they have not been asked to find solutions to such quantitative questions at the elementary level.

Christy said...

How valuable is rote learning when I will use the Google toolbar to check my spelling in this comment (which insisted I capitalize Google,) when I use a calculator to figure my share of the lunch bill, when I can look up the dates of the War of 1812?

But then again, I wouldn't have all sorts of lovely poetry floating through my head if I hadn't embraced rote learning in my youth.

Seven Machos said...

I have some personal experience with this topic. For many years, I have taught SAT and GMAT courses for a great company, The Princeton Review. High school kids and college graduates have the hardest time with some basic math concepts.

I will confine this discussion to fractions. Man, do people hate fractions. And they really don't understand them. (Personally, I myself was a complete math phobe for many years, and I hated fractions, too.)

The problem, it seems to me, is that nobody teaching math bothers to stop and teach students what a fraction IS. So, you have to go through this rigamorole about explaining that, hey, a fraction is just a part of a whole. 1/2 is 1 part out of 2. And you say a few other simple things about the CONCEPT, and voila!, your students can work with fractions now.

Apparently, math teachers don't address the concept. They just give you a bunch of steps. And you end up doing a bunch of stuff you don't really understand.

The other problem I see is that math teachers are apparently way too hung up on SEMANTICS: the words for things. They like to sound all academic and use words like polynomial and phrases like "least common denominator." This semantical math strikes fear into students' hearts. I've found that if you just throw out the jargon and explain what stuff IS without using big, hairy words, people are a lot more comfortable.

bearing said...

Do you need to use a calculator to figure out your share of the lunch bill?

If so, I think perhaps you could have used a little MORE rote learning.

(Would anybody care to define "rote" here? It seems that "rote" carries some negative connotations, but I'm not at all sure that everyone agrees on what is meant by the word.)

Seven Machos said...

Rote is good in third grade. People need to memorize that 7 times 6 is 42. But critical thinking is also good. People need to understand that six sevens is 42.

Once you start thinking about numbers, it really makes a lot of sense. There's not enough of that. People learn how to use a complex system but they don't really learn about the system itself, and they are scared of it, and they think it is all esoteric and complex.

David said...

I am crushed.

Never will I post here again, chased away by the gammer and spellin police.

Actually, my deficiency comes from general lack of ability (my english major parents despaired) and an over reliance on spell checkers, of which blogger does not provide one for comments.

Over reliance on technology has made my typing slipshod and my spelling become all the worse.

Which is why computers do not belong in grade school

lindsey said...

christy, rote learning is important because you don't want to be an ignorant person. And being dependent on your computer or calculator to do things for you all the time is lazy.

lindsey said...

There's also the little problem of being helpless without a computer or calculator. You'd think people would be ashamed of helplessness. What happens if the computers break down? Or the power goes away?

RogerA said...

Take heart david--preview is for the faint of heart; and if all a commenter can do is complain about your spelling or grammar, they have probably missed the point of your post in the first place--and even more important: how do they feel about eubonics?

Aspasia M. said...

hmmmm..frog husbandry? Do they teach that in school?

Have you seen the recent study on problems with reading comprehension for U.S. college graduates?

I've seen University students struggle to read Ben Franklin's Autobiography. Eeeek!

Aspasia M. said...

Spell check on blogger would help me a lot.

PatCA said...

I think you're right that we take our critical thinking style for granted.

An Iraqi girl came to the US as an exchange student and said that America is the greatest country because it demands this kind of independent thinking and that results in freedom and achievement. Egyptian and Iraqi bloggers have always said that their education, even in medical school, is by rote. No questions, no arguments, allowed. Even the military is having a hard time changing that culture with the new Iraqi army, which has consequences for how they perform together.

Interesting study about fundamentalism and literacy, showing that as literacy rates rise, fundamentalism falls. Literary introduces doubt, and doubt is good. Heck, can't find the link.

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W said...
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