Training that Pattern thinking

So, I have been quiet lately, but I think I can begin to get back into the swing of things since my life seems to be resuming some semblance of normalcy .   One of the ideas bumping around in my noggin, but also alluded to in some earlier blogs, is training pattern thinking in terms of logical thinking.  Logical minds are very good at connecting the dots and seeing correlations, but the inferences made and conclusions generated are still only as good as the quality of the data that has been retained.   With extremely logical minds, we see patterns, connections, and correlations in so many different ways, and it can become extremely hard to separate out the useful and trivial data.  I have the beginnings of a solution, and before I forget for any credential freaks out there, I do have my M.ed. so I am not clueless on topics related to pedagogy, that said, training the logical thinker to be able to sort through this data becomes a powerful tool for empowering the individual and helping calm the chaos of a world filled with beautiful patterns.

When I see bad pattern thinking, I often see issues of ideology or unreasonable correlations as the biggest issues.  In the form of ideology, rigid thinking patterns in regards to one’s belief in how the universe works results in the loss of pertinent data in favor of data that already fits their existing world view.  Harold Garfinkle might say this is part of the social creation and re-creation of shared realities.  Through social consensus we often agree on a reality that is highly subjective, based on anecdotes and belief as much as valid observation of objective reality.  When this ideology is challenged, because it based on a rigid and flawed data set, the individual can become hostile, feel threatened, shut up and move on, but they will most often dance around the subject in some way. The internalized notion of reality that is under threat defends itself, best described I think as feeling one’s sanity is at risk, when one challenges a pillar of a person’s identity, and that pillar becomes undermined, it is the perfect recipe for an existential crisis, and I do not think everyone makes it through that experience, so in a very real way, it is a threat to them to challenge these firmly held beliefs.  Yet, children taught to train their logical thinking will be able to better construct a worldview, and though their personality may still hold onto that worldview rigidly, it will be more informed and inherently more flexible.  Likewise, in the case of unreasonable correlations, properly trained logical thinking will help them vet the soundness and validity of their logic, helping to prevent the uptake and retention of bad correlations.

As it stands now, I see four primary things that need to be taught to logical thinkers, and are beneficial to everyone as a whole. First, we need to teach very basic logical syllogism, a simple logical equation that helps determine if an idea is sound, valid, neither, or both.  Secondly, we need to teach Occam’s Razor, not necessarily in that term, but simply reinforce the notion that the most likely answer is it, and that it is the starting point for getting to the real answer, jumping straight to “my teacher must be an alien” is how you end up with the stereotype at least of the “crazy conspiracy theorist”, often tremendously great logical minds, that are simply not weighing the probability of their correlations well.  Thirdly, we need to teach the scientific method, especially in regards to reinforcing that correlation is not causation.  Finally, we need to teach reflexive triangulation, and that is helping it become habit to test correlations against at least three scenarios or thought experiments to quickly determine if ones logic is at least sound. With these cognitive tools developed, the extremely logical mind and pattern thinker is better able to quickly determine the value and use of correlations they see.  It foster’s a healthy sense of skepticism towards rote understanding, and will greatly strengthen critical thinking skills that could translate into a real asset later in life as well.  It may seem like a lot, but many of these concepts can be taught outside of lesson plans and embedded within everyday class behavior, below are a few ideas for use in the classroom to help teach these things, and this is targeted towards the elementary aged students, as this would be the appropriate time to help focus those synapses.

Teaching logical syllogism is fairly easy given the numerous everyday examples of wrong correlations that younger concrete learners very naturally make.  So when a student exhibits correlations based on uninformed logic and a mix of magical thinking, the educator can break that down using logical syllogism and show the student the process while also helping shape their line of inquiry and correct erroneous correlations.  Likewise, you can even break their answer down in a way that shows they were using underlying logic well, that it simply had the wrong data, and thus the child can have the positive aspects of how they arrived at the conclusion reinforced, while still correcting the errors.

Occam’s Razor is already taught to a limited degree, every time an educator challenges a child’s guess as to why something happened with a “do you think that likely?” or a “did you consider this?”, the child is learning to look for the most common patterns, be they social or based in object reality.  Yet, reinforcing this concept verbally would be beneficial, ask questions along the lines of “what do you think is the MOST likely answer?”, and use this tool to engage the students in thinking about probability as part of following a line of inquiry to get to the right answer.

In regards to the scientific method, for the most part it is taught reasonably well, but we tend to keep it compartmentalized instead of using it as a thought tool that can be applied to any line of inquiry.  A hypothesis can be generated and tested in social settings, while playing games, etc.  For example, almost any game can be manipulated to give unfair advantage to some of the players, an educator could engage the children in rules changes and see how it affects the games, it also helps to reinforce why we play with standardized rules and agree as a group to follow them, a not uncommon lesson many children have to learn.

Finally, the seemingly hardest is to teach the habituation of triangulation, that is when one sees a connection between two things, they then learn to take that correlation and apply it to at least two other scenarios or different perspectives, this helps teach the mind to look for validation in the form of seeing if the correlation holds up to other scenarios. It does not guarantee a correct answer, but it helps quickly eliminate bad correlations when it becomes apparent that in other situations the perceived correlation does not hold up or apply well.  Teaching this can be done via line of questioning and teachable moments, but can also be incorporated into early testing and activities, by have children learn to seek out and make three good connections to their central idea.

As integrated learning methods, most of these need little modification to an existing pedagogy, instead it becomes an additional tool and approach to help students better understand how to think, check their thinking, and a bit more about themselves.  Trained to reflex you have a powerful tool to teach intuitive types and non-intuitives alike.  For the intuitive thinkers, it helps ensure the data they choose to incorporate, and thus influences their intuition.  For the non-intuitive, it teaches a method by which to build up understanding and arguments, to step outside just the here and now, but to thing expansively or in the long term.  Though like many of ideas, this one it but a nascent one, I believe that coupled with an educational system that puts emphasis on understanding one’s own self-identity along with the academic work, we will empower our descendants to think critically and have a broader perspective.

How the education system breaks difference

I want to take a bit here to talk about the current westernized education system, though the model has been applied in many places across the globe.  With human populations being the sheer size they are, it is easy to understand how being able to quantify a person statistically is appealing, but it is also dehumanizing and cannot truly objectively get the results it desires.  Our very methods of testing are based upon what is valued or considered the ideal, or even just normal by the dominant paradigm, and thus when a child fails to thrive in that, they are defective, disabled, morally inferior to others.  This is a judgment based on ideology, not neurological fact.  When one talks about the bell curve and intellect, the measure of intellect is biased by the society measuring it, it has pre-conceived expectations on what makes someone a “functional” member of society.  Introverts for example, those who may favor deep thought, or have their “heads in the clouds” are often demeaned as lazy, because many in our society believe you need to see the activity directly in front of their own eyes, they fail to understand how many variables there are to meaningful human endeavor.

The current education system continues to try and apply one size fits all approaches to education, even though there are so many of us who keep saying clearly that we need to teach to the difference.  While working on my Masters in Education, a common theme for the US education system was the notion that an educated population is needed for a healthy democracy, but our standards for what makes an educated person are both limited and woefully out of balance.  The intersection of the industrialist mindset with our education system, coupled with the cost of it due to varying amounts of legislation, red-tape, and bureaucracy has turned it into a rigid behemoth, that serves only those well adapted to the dominant paradigm.  We favor rote learning and knowledge over critical thinking and being able to apply that knowledge, it allows ignorance to flourish, because no amount of quantifiable facts and statistics can truly indicate an individuals ability to think and apply that knowledge.  Knowledge that is never applied, might as well not be taught at all, facts, figures, names, and dates do not a truly educated person make, we have confused these notions with being able to think critically, wisdom, and the not so common “common sense”.

Compartmentalized learning is the backbone of the current education system, an obsession with certain skill sets linked to specific subject matter, and for many this is a perfectly decent way to learn, but many of us, those who naturally favor logical thinking over “observant” or as I call it, empirical thinking, do not learn well this way at all.  Rote learning lacks context, it does not allow for an immediate value assessment for us, because many of us need to see it applied, see the interaction of different subjects to better grasp it, rote learning stands alone from a complex intertwined system, and some of us learn best by trying to understand the entire system, not just bits and pieces kept distinct.  I have said before, and will say it again, though I am bad at math as we currently teach it, I have a very naturally mathematical mind, my lack of visualization and thus ability to manipulate numbers in my mind, does not mean I do not do math constantly, that I don’t assess angles and degrees, subtract, multiply, add or divide constantly.  Yet there is no system or test in place where I can show competency, because we have a rigid idea of what it means to understand such things.

There are so many different ways people think and learn, we approach basic questions from so many different points, and those of us who think differently are often demeaned for it, we then fail to thrive because the way we are taught does not make sense.  And this is not just an autism spectrum issue, the school to prison pipeline exists because of a failure to teach to difference, that the logical mindset found in so many cultures and genotypes is disdained in our society, it reminds us of the indolence of the old European aristocracy for example.  But the failures of the European Aristocracy is not how they thought and what they valued, it is the same issue as we see today, in that they failed to understand, utilize, and value other ways of thinking and interacting with the world.  So in old Europe, the empirical, grounded in the here and now, was demeaned, it was the “peasant” mindset, considered short sighted and intellectually inferior, while it was never any of these things, it was simply difference.

Yet, through our one size fits all approach, many of us fail to thrive within the academic system, and somehow that becomes our fault, either being “disabled” like many of us on the spectrum are listed, and we do have some differences that make us maladaptive to the current paradigm, but that is not disability, it is the failure to expand the system and teach to the difference (once again, there are severe forms of autism that are lifelong disability, but we create a great deal of that artificially). We continue to allow the mentality of “kids will be kids” as an excuse to let us be demeaned and bullied, and yes kids will be kids, but that is not an excuse to ignore a teachable moment, to expand their understanding about different ways of thinking, and the value of that, when kids act this way, it is our duty in a democratic society especially, to teach them better than that.  When cultures clashed historically there are ideas exchanged, these ideas foster innovation, but this is also found on the individual level as well, difference pushes us forward, and to demean one inherent way of thinking over another is not just morally reprehensible, it is self defeating in the long term, it leads to trauma, mental illness, caste systems and social classes. Sure, there is mobility within the US economically, but that mobility is based upon certain careers and endeavors, and not everyone can do those things and thrive, it is a pleasant lie we tell ourselves, because many people do not value those things, and we should not be forced to suffer because of an inherent way of being we had no choice in.   When I think about the school to prison pipeline, I see logical thinkers greatly affected, be them autism spectrum or populations of African descent, see, logical thinking is very common throughout the world, it is very beneficial for survival, it is flexible and reads the patterns of the natural world easily, and thus many genetic populations favor that way of thinking.  In the US and many areas of Europe, there are so many Empirical thinkers, this lends itself well to changing the environment, constructing and building things, taming instead of adapting and moving with the natural world.  Both of these ways of thinking have their benefits and their limitations, these are different gifts and we must make room for that to flourish.  “Being White” as discussed by many educators as a plague amongst many school populations, most often associated with African Americans, is more than just flouting the dominant paradigm out of spite and an effort to maintain their own cultural identity, it identifies and demeans those who think close to the dominant paradigm and value rote book learning over wisdom and life experience.  It identifies a difference, and that difference is demeaned because it is not consciously understood and applies to the dominant paradigm that has in turn consistently demeaned them.  It is a cycle, and cycles can be broken, and our education system is the tool that is used to break so many of us, to make us feel unworthy and under valued, that our failure to learn in a way that is contrary to how we build up our understanding of the world somehow makes us faulty.

Life today is very rigid, we say we are free, but few people understand what liberty really means, the ability to say what you want without consequence is not freedom, it is A freedom, a singular example, but that alone does not make us free.  One might argue that we are able to go into a host of careers, we just have to buckle down and get our education. But when that very education does not teach to how we learn best, then we have already started passing a subtle moral judgment on what types of thinking are valuable, and what are undesirable.  The cards are stacked against us based on so many differences that no child has ever had a say in, not just inherent thinking, but privilege based on race, sex, and social class, often found in the very poor funding found in some schools, with leaky roofs and old, outdated text books, vs cutting edge technology.  And this is tied to enclaved communities, communities so fearful of difference than a black or latino family moving in can cause home values to drop, based of ignorance and fear, instead of giving those who are culturally and racially different a chance to flourish on their own merits.  Ignorance and fear are great movers and shakers in our economy, and as a result, based on how we fund ours schools currently, that leads to enclaves that demean and keep out difference, that label children, before they have even had a chance to establish a healthy sense of self identity as doomed to fail, as defective, as trouble makers who cannot just listen and do what they are told.

Well, some of us are experiential learners and skeptics, we will not take you at your word, we need to come to our understanding of things in a different way, this is not defective, it is simply different.  I remember keenly more than a few times where I was told by an educator, an authority who is supposed to nurture my knowledge and understanding, that I was going to amount to nothing, simply because I did not thrive or relate to the education system, because I questioned it, questioned my teachers, questioned their credentials, and always tried to see things from multiple points of view.  Coupled with facing a scary and overwhelming future, tied down to repetitive work force tasks, soul numbing and devoid of value to me.  I avoided studying many topics, because I was constantly told I would starve if I did so, but for the few who regularly read my works, there is little doubt I have a philosopher’s mind, coupled with a love of empirical data and science, both forms of thought inform me so much more than just one way of thinking ever could.

When you cannot learn the way you learn best, then you suffer. When you are told that you are less worthy, because you think and approach things differently, self-defeatism creeps in, mental illness, lethargy, anger, and a host of other traits that further alienate us from the dominant paradigm.  We end up being “degenerates”, “hoodlums”, “future criminals”, and a host of other labels, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, it hijacks out self-identity and sense of self worth, and thus we make those who do not fit in the “other” and based on faulty context and false dichotomies, this status makes us undesirable in society, and this society closes doors of opportunity to us, and we deviate from the dominant model.  In many ways, this is a sizable chunk of criminality, self employment in a fashion that does not force one into a boring and pedantic 9 to 5 job, it has more excitement, it allows for more self-determination, and for many that makes it worth the risks.  We created a system that is so rigid, that is literally becomes almost prophetic in it’s ability to predict the course in life for certain ways of thinking. Add in further bias, in the form of racial profiling and cultural demeaning, then the deck becomes further stacked against certain groups, we see it now in the constant struggles of black men in our society.  And when people do stray, when they make mistakes, commit a crime, or a host of other things as a result, it becomes a label for life, even though we never gave them a chance to thrive in the first place.  We are not a nation that forgives, we are a nation that judges, and believe that heinous acts are the work of someone evil, heartless, or cruel and never allow them to find a better path, they become the label and the record of that label haunts and follows them for life, it is a human tragedy of epic proportions.

If we want to reduce mental illness and criminality, then we must look at our education system and our culture of demeaning difference.  If we embrace teaching to the difference, allowing rote learners to keep learning the way they do best, but allowing logical and experiential learners to do the same, we will have more well adapted people who will endeavor and contribute to society, since feeling that one is valued and belongs is such an important part of self-identity and mental health.  So what if they cannot tell you the exact date something was written, a ballpark figure is just fine, all they need for history for example is an understanding of chronology, the fine details are just knowledge not likely to be ever applied, that does not mean the learner did not learn the important aspects of history for example.  “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”, well folks, no culture or society has yet to properly do this, we keep assuming we have, but the cycle of demeaning, violence, and trauma is still alive and well, and we are working our way up to another cycle of it right now.  It is not names, dates, and specific locations that inform us of the lessons of history, it can all be paraphrased and understood in the terms of the intersection of human difference, individual and cultural.  Sometimes I wonder (seriously, this is a correlation, an interesting idea, not something I believe to be scientific fact, I am a pattern thinker after all) if the volume of empirical thinking we see in Europe and the Middle east is not tied to the amount of Neanderthal DNA in a population, that within our human genome there are two very different fundamental ways of learning.  I will use the China example again, after all trace amounts of the Neaderthal genome exist in Asiatic and Indigenous North American populations, that they developed a system of testing to identify empirical thinkers to help run the bureaucracy, An interesting thought to think that two races shared DNA and that as a result two ways of thinking exist within the human genome in regards to how we learn our schema and build up understanding. Regardless of origin, fun idea that it is, it benefits us all, the thinkers, the do’ers, nurturers, teachers, and so many other different ways of thinking once you begin to factor in inherent chaos in the wiring of the brain. So much difference….and yet we continue to assume that a one size fits all approach is desirable and beneficial to society, and that a child is to blame for that difference.  How short sighted we have been, even when science continues to indicate that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in how a brain can function.  But even those scientists often work within the dominant paradigm, and thus they too are biased, their subjective cultural lens applying judgments based on difference and it’s failure to flourish in what they consider to be an enlightened society, we are so very far away from being enlightened, we are still at war with our selves and each other, and we still fail to learn the lessons of history, and thus still hostages to the choices of our ancestors.