The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically: There’s no reason someone with a good eye for fashion or wordplay cannot develop an intuition for classifying rocks or mammals or algebraic equations, given a little interest or motivation.
“When facing problems in real-life situations, the first question is always, ‘What am I looking at? What kind of problem is this?’ ” said Philip J. Kellman, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Any theory of how we learn presupposes perceptual knowledge — that we know which facts are relevant, that we know what to look for.”The article discusses teaching children math, but I work at teaching adults law. In math, the problems have specific answers, in law, people disagree about the answers. When judges and lawyers disagree about how various texts apply to real cases, we tend to accuse each other of being biased in one way or another. But we see that bias — and our own supposedly right answer — with the eye that we have developed.
The challenge for education, Dr. Kellman added, “is what do we need to do to make this happen efficiently?”