Monday, September 17, 2007

The Simplicity of Complexity

There's a theme uniting recent bits of "Duh" research that have caught my attention over the past few weekes.

Last month, of course, a study that said educational videos for infants have detrimental effects on vocabulary development was all over the news.

Earlier this month, a pair of researchers wrote an article in the Boston Globe ("Art for Our Sake") about their work looking at the effects of arts instruction in schools. They contend that such programs are more important for the general thinking skills (observation, reflection, critical thinking, etc.) they encourage than for the specffic arts content.

Just this week, my local paper ran an article about the "Calfornia Children's Outdoor Bills of Rights":
Every child should have the opportunity to:

1. Discover California's Past
2. Splash in the water
3. Play in a safe place
4. Camp under the stars
5. Explore nature
6. Learn to swim
7. Play on a team
8. Follow a trail
9. Catch a fish
10. Celebrate their heritage

And the reasoning behind this celebration and promotion of the great outdoors for kids?
Numerous studies document that children who do these things are healthier, do better in school, have better social skills and self-image, and lead more fulfilled lives.

There's certainly a solid argument to be made that arts and outdoors experiences ought to be valued simply for what they are. That they have positive cognitive effects shouldn't be a necessary prerequisite for their inclusion in our everyday lives, but that's a discussion for another day.

What the vocabulary study, the arts study, and the outdoors bill of rights all have in common is their recommendation of complex, stimulating, interactive settings as more conducive to learning and cognitive development. Essentially, they're saying that conventional educational methods, where instruction is presented to students in a top-down fashion, just isn't as effective at teaching the skills we want our kids to have as letting them learn from hands-on, open-ended experiences.

Sounds suspiciously like unschooling to me.

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