I am a fan of cognitive science. In fact, I wrote the first history of the field—The Mind’s New Science (1985). But Natalie Wexler (“Why So Many Kids Struggle to Learn,” Winter 2022) is naïve if she thinks that training in cognitive science is the “silver bullet” to improve the learning of American young people. It’s a technological solution to problems that are much broader and more challenging. Students in countries as diverse as Finland, Singapore, and Hungary learn more effectively not because their teachers have taken a cognitive psychology course but because their teachers are more carefully selected, better mentored, and likely to pursue their careers for more than a few years. And they are supported by a national education system that largely avoids the political skirmishes of local school boards.
Were such conditions in place in the United States, knowledge of cognitive findings could be helpful. But at present, they are just another confusing input in the to-do list of all-too-often hapless teachers.
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Eric Kalenze’s experience cited in Natalie Wexler’s article reminded me of experiences I had with students in several chemistry classes. Having taken open-book tests in other classes, they wanted to know why I didn’t use open-book tests as well. I replied that you have to know (memorize) some things (facts, information) before you can think about a subject. Note, that’s the first step in Bloom’s taxonomy: memorization, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, critique.
William S. Richardson
Natalie Wexler responds:
Professor Gardner is right that teacher training grounded in cognitive science is not a silver bullet. Many other aspects of the American education system impede student learning. As I wrote in my article, our best hope is probably to bring the K–12 curriculum in line with science and provide on-the-job training to help teachers implement it well. At the same time, some teachers will become more effective if they understand the science of learning—as Eric Kalenze did—despite the system’s other deficiencies. And surely if we’re going to require prospective teachers to undergo years of training, we should give them accurate information rather than inculcate beliefs that contradict science and only make their jobs harder. In my view, those beliefs—which permeate not only teacher training but also
instructional materials and education policy—are the basic “confusing inputs” that undergird the entire dysfunctional system.
I’m surprised that Roberto Calasso (“Tales of Mercy and Sacrifice,” Randy Rosenthal, Book Reviews) would ask why Samuel chose Saul as Israel’s first king, if Calasso had indeed read the account of that choice in 1 Samuel 8–10. The people of Israel demanded a king, such as the other nations thereabouts had; and Chapter 8 is filled with the judgments that would come upon Israel for rejecting Yahweh as its king in favor of a man. Saul was handsome and taller than any man in Israel (1 Samuel 9:2). And in 1 Samuel 10:1, Samuel says while anointing Saul, “Hath not the Lord anointed thee to be governor over his inheritance?” Thus, it was Yahweh who chose Saul; Samuel was merely carrying out his command. The people apparently wanted someone who looked good, just as they often do today, and to their detriment!
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The Centenary and Beyond
I read about the Scholar’s forthcoming 100th anniversary in Robert Wilson’s Editor’s Note (“At 90”) with considerable interest. In response to the question posed by Ted Widmer—“Will there be a 100th anniversary?”—I say yes and predict a bright future well beyond a hundred years. As I will be 95 in March, I may not be here to celebrate the Scholar’s 100th anniversary, but I will continue my subscription as long as I am able to read.
Wyckoff, New Jersey
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