AAAS Talk in Philadelphia 1998
by Dr. Herman T. Epstein
A QUESTION ABOUT EDUCATION
BRAIN, MIND, AND EDUCATION
EDUCATION: APPRENTICESHIP FOR ADULT LIFE
THE IMPACT OF SOCIETAL CHANGES ON EDUCATION
It is now well‑established that the first problem for education is adequate early psycho‑social development of children. Yet, even though most children have reasonably good beginnings, our schooling is still a major problem. There must be at least one additional major reason for poor education!
Let's face it: if educators actually knew how to improve schooling, they would have done it long ago. Furthermore, if most teachers actually knew how to teach efficiently, the present unsatisfactory state would never have been reached. Today's emphasis on raising standards will not help because we couldn't even reach the previous lower standards. So, explanations for ineffective schooling must miss at least one major source not usually contemplated by the education and political establishments. This reasoning led me to suspect a quite generally unacknowledged explanation of much poor schooling. It is that:
In the USA many to most teachers may be unsuited for being teachers. Two main reasons are that too many teachers have a combination of poor training and below average scholastic aptitude. I had long ago been alerted to the training problems by James Koerner, author of the book entitled "The Miseducation of American Teachers." John Bruer's recent book "Schools For Thought" adds to the negative evaluation of current training.
This suspicion of below average scholastic aptitude was strengthened recently when I read some data which show that the admission process for prospective teachers fails to exclude an actual majority of persons unsuited for the work, in that inadequate scholastic aptitude of the prospective teachers leads to inadequate understanding of children's development. Indeed, national SAT results show that high school seniors aiming at careers in education rank 19th out of 22 possible major fields. Even though the SAT is at best only a rough measure of what it purports to measure, the data are so overwhelming that inferences are extremely likely to be valid.
Inadequate understanding of children's cognitive development includes poor knowledge of the kinds of brain‑derived information to be presented, and insufficient awareness of current findings in cognitive psychology, including relevant aspects of Piaget's cognitive stages and Gardner's multiple intelligences. Teachers also need properties of warmth and empathy. However, the cognitive data of prospective teachers are alarming enough by themselves.
The data to which I referred are the SAT data for MA student teachers. SLIDE 1 shows the average SAT scores of those in education programs at 34 Massachusetts schools. Of the 17 schools NOT providing data, few are likely to be among the top‑scoring schools so the picture is probably even bleaker than given by the data you see. In 1996 the average SAT score of the 1.1 million test takers was 1013 (and 1195 for those taking both SAT tests). In 58% (20/34) of those programs, the average of those prospective teachers is below average. If we use the actual national or Massachusetts education school averages of about 900, 26% (9/34) are below even those depressed values. What all that means is that most prospective teachers are below average in scholastic aptitude, mainly well below, so they will understand little about child development and the strategies and tactics of teaching.
It is no wonder schooling is so very troubled when every second teacher can't teach effectively. The positive effects of the good teachers are very likely to be washed out or weakened by the noxious effects of the unsuitable teachers.
The only data (EdWeek Oct 15) I have found for other states are for Texas where the state education authority proposed closing the 19 out of 90 schools that fail to meet even education school standards for teaching programs. I haven't yet found data for how many teacher trainees eventually end up teaching, but one study of current teachers found that about half of them couldn't handle Piagetian abstract reasoning. This means that they have much trouble understanding generalizations about child development and cognition. So, warnings from the SAT data are really warranted.
What all this says about the faculties of many of those education schools is equally scandalous. How dare they admit such persons and pretend to train them as prospective teachers! Many of those faculty members, too, should be removed from their positions.
So, all proposed reforms will have little success if so many teachers are not really capable of implementing suggested reforms, be they higher standards, longer school days or years, vouchers, school choice, magnet schools, etc. [1/8 EdWeek: 60% won't change.]
The need to recruit some 2 million teachers over the next decade is likely to result in accepting into the profession many of the poorly qualified teachers suggested by this analysis. Unless we deal with this problem at once, children will be subjected to those unsuitable teachers who won't retire until around the year 2040.
Remedying this situation requires courageous actions by those in charge of education. If, by some miracle, the politicians decide to take action, they will need to know what can be done positively. There are three prominent avenues to pursue. We can look for ways to upgrade teacher candidates' cognitive capacities and/or we can try to enhance the ability of the really competent teachers to handle twice as many students as they have to deal with now and/or we can use secondary school students to amplify teacher activities.
Upgrading teacher candidates might be the most promising avenue right now because methodologies for doing that have been developed and used successfully. The methodologies all employ content‑based Information Analysis. Michael Shayer will shortly describe application of Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment to 11 to 14 year old students. The Delaware group will describe the use of PBL for college students. An obvious way of using these methodologies is to require all low SAT applicants for admittance to education schools to first complete such training to enhance their ability to handle abstract reasoning before reapplying. Indeed, all student teachers should take such training so they can eventually use the methodology with their own students.
The second avenue would treat the problem resulting from rejecting so many applicants. The remaining much more competent teachers will merit the higher pay needed to attract still more competent persons into the teaching profession. We could actually double the pay of teachers because the additional money would come from hiring half as many teachers. Fortunately, the recent advances in educational technology could let us live with the smaller number of teachers by using advanced educational technology to enhance their ability to handle the doubled number of students per class.
Using computers has revealed many ways for affording students the variety of inputs leading to increased mastery of both concrete and abstract reasoning levels and to greater scholastic achievements.
And, 3rd, high school students can be used to supplement staff. We could, of course, pursue all three approaches. Details of these approaches to enhancing teacher competence are a subject for another talk.
BRAIN, MIND, AND EDUCATION
Next, we will look at what brain growth data indicate may be ways to improve education in the next century. Schooling strategies that don't take into account brain growth data are likely to be ineffective. I will only have time to discuss here a few aspects that generate novel implications for education.
In 1974 I discovered that data on human brain weight show periods of rapid increase about ages 3‑10 months and 2‑4, 6‑8, 10‑ 12+, and 14‑16 years. Those skimpy initial data were later firmed up by more data and by finding stages at similar age spans in head circumference, EEG, and cerebral blood flow so that now the brain growth stages are experimental fact and not a theory.
It is significant that the rapid brain growth stages occur at the earliest onset ages of the Piaget stages of reasoning development so that they are probably the biological bases of those Piaget stages as Piaget himself discussed with me.
During rapid brain growth periods, increases in brain weight average about 5%, with much less growth during the interim periods of slow brain growth. Brain weight increases represent significant additional elongation and branching of axons and dendrites leading to more synapses.
Programming of the resultant additional, more complex neural networks permits enhancements of brain functioning, depending for their quality on (1) the quality of the already existing networks that are connected by the added and expanded networks and (2) the quality and quantity of the external experiential and instructional inputs that generate changes in the networks.
Children are born with some genetically prescribed neural networks that subserve the kinds of activities that occur automatically. Breathing, sucking, sensory detection, and similar activities are already programmed into the brain and connections made to appropriate motor controls.
From the day of birth, inputs to the child act on existing networks to strengthen, weaken, modify, and add to their activities. When the child is held and hugged, brain networks are activated and strengthened. When the child is sung to, still other networks are strengthened. Repeated appearance of the mother is a friendly fixation object as in imprinting in some animal species.
Three suggestive illustrations from biology (Lemonick, 1997; Prescott, 199?).
Some recent work with macaque monkeys showed differences between newborns raised by a dependably present mother and those raised by mothers who were arranged to be present only randomly. By age 2 years, the latter monkeys were distressed if separated from the mothers, fearful in most situations, and socially inept.
Similar aberrant behavior appeared in rat pups unless they received significant amounts of licking and grooming from their mothers. This maternal attention was accompanied by a significant reduction of stress hormones and more normal behavior.
A related result has been found for children who daily received some minutes of massaging; that led to significantly lower levels of stress hormones and more socially acceptable behavior.
Both the psycho‑social context and general properties of the environment contribute to what Greenough and associates call the experience‑expectant modifications of the brain and behavior. That is, the final structure and functioning of many genetically programmed brain structures are partially to be specified by later external inputs. Language is the most obvious example. Language structures have not been completely programmed because the language to be learned depends on the environment of the individual. Functions that can be learned are almost never selected for biologically (i.e. by evolution).
A child's first functions are almost totally egocentric, seeking to be fed and a sense that the world out there is friendly; without that security it can't pay much attention to acquiring other functions which therefore develop less well as the child concentrates on seeking to satisfy its need for self‑preservation. Comer's studies (1980) show clearly that the child needs to be adequately developed psycho‑socially BEFORE it can begin to pay effective attention to the instruction directed at it by its parents, teachers, and society. In other words, unless the child has an early positive self‑image, it cannot devote enough attention and energy to acquiring what schooling aims to convey.
The first big postnatal brain growth stage between about 3 and 10 months is mainly maturation of the cerebellum whose main work is to activate and control motor actions. During the 10 mo‑2 year period of slower brain growth, the child mainly practices its entire complement of actions and controls, thereby improving, consolidating, and perfecting them to the extent to which the networks were optimally arranged for those purposes.
The next large brain growth stage (2‑4 years) is concerned mainly with the maturation of all five senses. This starts with the fusion of thought and language development. That is, the child has reached the age of speaking in concepts and thinking in words, so language aspects are especially significant. But, the child can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell virtually on the adult level by the end of this stage. This raises an important question!
How can a child end up deprived? Does the prototypical child in a poor urban ghetto family see fewer things than the child of a middle class environment? No. Similarly, that ghetto child hears, tastes, smells, and touches as wide a variety of inputs as the more advantaged child. Therefore, the ghetto child is not deprived in any of the five senses. But the senses are the only routes into the brain so how can it be deprived? Yet, we know the child is functionally deprived. Of what can it be deprived? As I will next describe, it can only be in the association of those sensory inputs. Association is the key to the first level of advanced mental functioning; it will be argued later that association is a main key to almost all mental functioning.
Association means, for one example, being able to infer a sight from a sound: hearing some metal clanking tells the child that it will see some keys if its choice is between a rubber ball and a key ring. Anatomically, the association of all 5 senses takes place in the left side of the brain just above the ear. A study was made of Korean War veterans who had survived being shot in the head. Comparing IQs taken after recovery with their pre‑induction IQs showed little or no effect of the injury unless the wound was just above the ear when their IQ's dropped some 30 points to make them very unintelligent indeed. Association is the key component of intelligent behavior at this point in development. Another familiar example is language in which naming begins with associating sounds with concepts.
I keep stressing that the quality of existing networks limits the quality of the more complex mental functions that will next be acquired. An illustration comes from a recent study of young orphan male elephants. These young elephants were raised without being in traditional herds: that is, without the usual matriarchal cow, and in the absence of the usual disciplinary elders. When they reached puberty, they went on rampages. Some tried to attach themselves to neighboring herds of rhinoceroses, even trying to mate with their females. Such findings stress that these undisciplined young elephants don't know how to behave, and the problem began much earlier than what is equivalent to puberty‑ middle school years in humans.
Up to this stage of development, reasoning seems to be almost entirely associative. Teachers should note that the early association of concepts with sounds (generally called naming) can also be fostered between concepts and visual objects (writing) so very young children could be taught a simple form of using written materials: associating a written or printed pattern with some object or function. This is mainly what is achieved by the pure so‑called whole language approach. It is not bad in itself; it is only bad when the phonics approach does not accompany the whole language approach. Association exercises should be a main activity in daycare centers.
Though new brain cell formation stops by age 4‑5 years, brain weight increases about 30% thereafter; the additional weight is in increased weight PER brain cell, much of which is in increased arborization of neurons. You've already seen such changes in SLIDE 2. The neurons send out longer and more branched axons and dendrites to create novel connections among more distantly located and separated groups of neurons. This increase in network complexity makes possible more complex mental functioning.
Thus, when the next rapid brain growth stage begins around age 6 years, connections are made between already existing neuronal groups that subserve distinct functions. Previously separate mental and sensori‑motor functions are now associated, creating the more complex logical functioning called concrete reasoning.
It is extremely important to point out that these new concrete reasoning functions are NOT genetically programmed because, if they were, virtually all children would manifest those functions at roughly the same ages, as they do during the earlier brain growth stages when virtually all children begin to walk and talk at about the same ages. This means that those augmented networks do NOT appear with already (genetically) built‑in or programmed functions, so their functioning is experience‑expectant: dependent on a combination of experience and instruction for their installation, modification, and sharpening. Their functions have to be learned!
This is the first and very powerful real evidence that humans are dependent on instruction for acquiring higher cognitive functions. A wide variety of inputs from parents, teachers, and society are crucial. Moreover, humans will remain instruction‑dependent for those higher cognitive functions because those functions can be taught. Therefore, evolution will not act to acquire and install them in genetic programs any more than dogs can be selected for automatically fetching newspapers.
The next rapid brain growth stage, which onsets around age 10 years, is again manifested in significant increases in neuronal arborization, creating additional contacts and associations between the earlier‑organized networks and their functions. This time, however, new contacts can be made between neuronal networks subserving concrete reasoning. This makes possible the association of concrete reasoning functions into generalizations about such functions. In other words, at this stage it becomes possible to manifest what Piaget called formal reasoning which transcends direct experience. And, as before, the quality of the new functions is limited by the quality of the already formed networks and functions being associated by the additional arborization.
An important clue to the kinds of functions being installed may come from the studies by Thatcher et al (1986) and by LeMay (1977) which indicate a slight preponderance of right‑side brain growth during this stage. This right‑side preponderance also gives a clue about gender differences because, although both genders have a brain growth spurt at this age, females have about TWICE as much brain growth as males. Because the implications of this dramatic gender difference in brain growth have never been studied from this point of view, we don't know what it is that females can do more of and/or better than and/or different from what males can do at this period. Therefore, we don't know yet how to take advantage of this difference to enhance the education of females as their much greater brain development certainly merits.
The next rapid brain growth stage (14‑16 years) is one in which the male brain weight increase is somewhat more than twice as much as that of the females, with a slight preponderance of left‑side brain growth. This may account for other gender differences such as the distinctly greater male skills in many mathematical abilities.
As there is no evidence of more brain increase by the criterion of brain weight, this would seem to be the end of the series of more complex reasoning stages made possible by gaining more complex neural networks. All later mental advancements would be in reprogramming existing complex neural networks. The brain doesn't have fixed programs like a computer: you can't change your mind without changing your brain.
Because of variations in combining individual brain growth and experiences, age‑wise and subject‑wise developmental differences among children will be the norm. So, teachers should present children with opportunities to acquire at least the elements of more advanced behaviors at almost any age, provided they are really carefully crafted opportunities and not compulsory and didactic instructions. This requires abstract reasoning teachers. Only the biological events occur on a fixed schedule as long as there are no prenatal or postnatal noxious inputs to the children's brains.
I will now give two illustrations of insights deriving from thinking about biology first. The Head Start program is situated mainly during a slow brain growth period. Suspecting a problem, I studied the literature on Head Start and discovered and was one of the first to publish that Head Start doesn't achieve its main founding goal of enhancing the school performances of children.
The creators of intervention programs have now unleashed a wave of publicity about Early Head Start and Zero to Three years as the way to correct Head Start inadequacies. The brain growth data shows that this should be Zero to Four because the rapid brain growth ends at 4 years, not at 3. Continuing until age four years will also help slower developing students to achieve the goals.
An extremely important aspect of using ZERO‑TO‑FOUR is that it is a PREVENTIVE programs not a remedial program like Head Start. Why wait with Head Start until the damage is done? It will be far more effective and far less expensive to mount a preventive program.
This 0‑4 program needs a heavy emphasis on practicing association activities to attain the maximum cognitive effect of the preventive program.
My second illustration deals with the 12‑14 year slow brain growth period, covering the junior high school ages. We used these junior high school students in a program that took them out of school two full days each week and put them to work in homes for the aged and daycare centers. We weren't informed until later that the students we were given were chosen because they were having many problems in and out of school. Although the students were in regular school classes only three days per week, their grades jumped from the 50s and 60s to the 70s and 80s.
Using high school students to do such work is an increasingly popular activity, but the emphasis is on senior high school students mainly to help the toddlers and elders with whom they work. Our experiment used junior high school students for BIOLOGICAL reasons and mainly to help those junior high school students themselves to realize their potentials. If we considered only socio‑psychological factors, we would have used the older students without realizing that the emphasis is on helping the junior high school students to go successfully through their slow brain growth period and not only to do something socially useful for others ‑the reason given for mounting most such programs today.
EDUCATION: APPRENTICESHIP FOR ADULT LIFE
What should be the guiding principles of schooling?
Current schooling aims to give the pupil enough of a background in reading, writing, and calculating to be prepared for finding satisfactory employment in today's technology‑driven society. In addition, schooling should give a broad introductory background in the man‑made aspects of civilization: the arts, technology, the humanities, and the sciences. That indicates the general content of the schooling, but what should we do differently from present practices which are failing in all too many places?
Schooling is most relevant and effective when it is an explicit apprenticeship for both work and for being a responsible adult citizen of a democracy. This differs from current goals in adding the requirement for becoming a responsible adult; some details of how to foster becoming a responsible adult will be spelled out shortly.
This apprenticeship strategy also means being prepared for either terminating schooling after high school or continuing to higher education. This must be done because fewer than 1/3 of our young people presently complete higher education. The needs of the other 2/3 of our youths must not continue to be ignored, as well as not preparing them for responsible adulthood.
I will just mention some proposed alterations from generally accepted current schooling.
1. Students lacking mastery of the basic elements of reading, writing, and calculation will remain after regular school hours to be given extra tutoring in those functions. There is no getting around this extra schooling, and society will have to pay for it!
2. Students will survey the man‑made aspects of societies such as the arts, economics, law, medicine, politics, science, and technology.
3. Students will survey the different cultural aspects within their towns and their nation, along with cultural, political, and economic differences among nations. Language courses will be available to those wanting them, but will not be required.
4. Students will also learn how to do household things such as fixing and connecting a wire, balancing a checkbook, using a washing machine, adding oil to a car, changing a tire, using a computer, sewing on a button, doing some simple cooking, etc.
5. Junior and senior high school students will devote two days each week working in community service positions such as daycare centers or homes for the aged, supervised by trained personnel. This gives them experience in being part of a community and also in the responsibilities resulting from parenthood. This also frees up 40% of in‑school time so that fewer teachers are needed.
6. All students will have practical courses in Information Analysis during their high school years, using content‑based IE or PBL. They will apply this to current newspaper and magazine articles on politics, economics, medicine, nutrition, science, and psychology and discuss and debate them in class. Students will analyze product advertisements to evaluate their quality.
7. Debates will form a significant segment of every subject on a level accessible to the students. Such debating will require teachers knowledgeable about all these aspects of functioning and capable of discussing them reasonably objectively.
8. All high school students will take a minor in some vocation, studied after regular school hours. This eventually will be done by a direct apprenticeship program when the community has begun to accept its responsibility in this regard. Such a minor will be of direct and immediate significance to those terminating schooling with high school, and will also give those going on to higher education a fall‑back means of earning a living when there are economic recessions and depressions.
All along this journey from birth to adulthood, the accent is on apprenticing to function as responsible adults.
THE IMPACT OF SOCIETAL CHANGES ON EDUCATION
Finally, it is important to take note of societal changes with which education should have long ago started to deal. Entirely novel problems come from the technological transformations which make most new jobs ones requiring substantial education and training. In rough terms, most newly available full‑time jobs are for persons with the equivalent of college or university degrees; formal (abstract) reasoning is needed for almost all such work. These jobs are for what are called "knowledge workers".
What, then, can be done about the fact that currently only about 25% of our youths actually graduate from colleges and universities? If we look only superficially into the situation, we might advocate (with Pres. Clinton) policies aimed at graduating, say, 60% of all youths from those colleges and universities. But, that ignores the data in the next slide.
These cognitive level data show that only about 1/3 of present college age youths can handle abstract reasoning, so we are already educating most of those capable of profiting from higher education. What is to happen with the other 2/3 of our youths? If those proportions can't be changed, where are we going to find a majority of jobs requiring only concrete reasoning abilities or even lesser cognitive levels?
Such changes in society require a rethinking of the structure, content, and goals of schooling. One of the more important possibilities is that we aim seriously at raising the overall cognitive levels of people. That could take care of any increasing need for knowledge workers. Many researchers have tried and failed to achieve that result; the first really successful work on such an approach will be described by the others in this symposium.
So, in summary, I have tried to show why and how to take into account information deriving from brain development data, why and how schooling should aim at apprenticeship for adult living, why the selection of prospective teachers needs enormous improvement, and what changes are required to overcome the shortcomings of our current teacher applicants.
Will you help to initiate the actions needed for improving education in the next century? The education profession won 't.
AVERAGE SAT SCORES OF TEACHERS-IN-TRAINING IN MASSACHUSETTS
17 Schools did not provide averages
PERCENTAGES OF PERSONS AT EACH COGNITIVE LEVEL AT EACH AGE
Each level is composed often or more simple reasoning schemes. Level A in each category is composed of children who have just begun to manifest only one or two of that level's reasoning schemes.
These data on cognitive level show that only about 1/3 of present college age youths can handle the demands of formal (abstract) reasoning. Since only about 30% of youths obtain 4 year degrees, we are already educating essentially all those capable of profiting from honest higher education. What is to happen with the other 2/3 of our youths
The inertia in every large establishment is the major factor in preventing adoption of any successful changes in all endeavors, including schooling. But, in schooling, an almost equal factor is that roughly half of the teachers don't want to change because they are so marginally able to retain their teaching positions that every change threatens their livelihood. This was complained about by Sizer in HVD Ed Newsletter.
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