A little unlearning

A colleague of mine outlined the theory of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change to a Grade 9 class, and at the end she explained (as she should) that while there was widespread support for the theory, there was a substantial group of scientists, some of them highly prestigious, who didn’t accept a word of it.

Al Gore up a crane.

 One boy, on his way out of the class, said to her in a weary tone – ‘Can’t someone just prove it, one way or the other?’

The feeling we call ‘cognitive dissonance’ arises when we cannot reconcile contradictory information. It is an uncomfortable feeling, a tension, a state of not knowing. In fiction, we enjoy this feeling, and look forward to its resolution – preferably in a surprising way. But in life, the vast majority of us resort to a range of self-deceiving strategies to make it go away.

We reach for ‘probably’. We choose a side. We do whatever is required not to have to think critically about it. ‘Oh,’ we think, ‘the scientists who disagree must be getting paid by the oil companies.’ Or, ‘Obviously they don’t care about the environment. Nice, caring people all agree about this.’ Continue reading “A little unlearning”


The Destructivist Classroom – 1

Photograph by Sam Sherratt. The Roaches, Cheshire, England.

OK, SO THERE’S Instructivism, which is the teacher-centered classroom. Soooo twentieth century, but it still has a place in a mixed economy of good practice. Once in a while, the students want and need to hear an authoritative exposition, a great story, an impassioned rant or two.

Then there’s Constructivism, and that’s the student-centered classroom, and the 21st century way. It promises to be more than a passing educational fad, because this really is how we learn. We teach for understanding: and unlike information, understanding cannot be simply transferred from one mind to another. It has to be constructed afresh by every learner.

I would argue that Instructivism and Constructivism are not a binary opposition but a complementary pair, and that we need a balance of both. The relationship between these two styles is no doubt complex and worthy of further thought. But here I want to focus on a third -ism which has to enter the picture in certain phases of the process. We could call it ‘Destructivism’, because at certain points on the learning curve, some deconstruction needs to take place before the learner can move on to the next level. Continue reading “The Destructivist Classroom – 1”