Monday, November 10, 2008

The Plasticity of Brains

I've been reading a lot of books lately that provide interesting criticisms of how we raise children in our culture. While most of them don't even mention homeschooling as a possible solution to many of these problems, that's what I keep thinking as I read these books.

One interesting book I've read recently is called Endangered Minds, by Jane M. Healy. The author begins by talking about the fact that our brains actually physically change shape according to our learning experiences. Then, her premise is that children's brains have been changing physically for the worse lately, evidenced by attention spans that are "noticeably shorter," and "reading, writing, and oral language skills [that] seem to be declining" (15).

While there's a lot of technical stuff about brain research in the book that bogged my reading down now and then, overall I found it fascinating, and yet another good reason to homeschool my kids. And also another reason to continue to cut down on time in front of the screen, not just for the kids, but for all of us.

Here are a few quotes from the book, to whet your appetite.

"For all students, steady increases in television viewing and less time spent reading are accepted as negative influences on verbal scores" (18).

"Our society is becoming increasingly aliterate ... 'An aliterate is a person who knows how to read buy who doesn't choose to read" (23).

"Most people are unaware that there has been a major 'dumbing down' of reading tests since the 1960s" (27). Apparently instead of getting our children to be better readers, we dumb down the tests so that they look like they are still doing okay!

"Parents, themselves overwhelmed, abdicate to the peer and popular culture much of the shaping of their children's mental habits" (45).

It is possible that "the pace of our contemporary life, when many children are constantly being stimulated from outside so that they have little time to sit, think, reflect, and talk to themselves inside their own heads -- could ... make a physical difference in their brains" (55).

"Even if the linguistic quality of television were upgraded ... the one-way nature of media talk makes it a poor teacher. Good language, like the synapses that make it possible, is gained only from interactive engagement: children need to talk as well as to hear.... [Children] also get little conversation training at schools" (88).

"Clearly, to be well prepared for reading, writing, listening, and speaking, children need to interact with increasingly advanced language during the years of childhood" (115).

"Even 'normal' students show increasing difficulty keeping their brains focused long enough to learn in traditional ways" (137).

"To the extent that children commit time looking at TV, they're not spending time reading. When a child reads a novel, he has to self-create whole scenarios, he has to create images of who these people are, what their emotions are, what their tones of voices are, what the environment looks like, what the feeling of this environment is. These self-create scenarios are important, and television leaves no room for that creative process" (214).


SmallWorld at Home said...

Sounds like an excellent book. My kids have a 2-hour computer/TV time limit, and most days I think that is too much.

Thank you for the lit suggestions! I have to say that I struggle with The Kite Runner. I think it is AMAZING. My hang-up is the brutal rape scene, and I guess also the scene with the captive son later. I suspect that most of my students' parents would NOT want their kids reading that. What are your thoughts on that?

Jena said...

Thank you for this post. I love hearing about research and opinions about learning that inadvertently promote homeschooling! We are so blessed to have the option to let our kids learn at home, at their own pace.