I remember eagerly awaiting the return of “Sherlock” last year. As usual, it didn’t disappoint. I watch very little television, but this is one show that captured my interest from the very first episode. Sherlock’s brilliance and ability to solve mysteries always amazes me. But it was a scene in which his sidekick, Watson, rebukes him for not knowing that the Earth rotates around the Sun, that is easily my favorite.
Sherlock: Ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish. And that makes it hard to get at the stuff that matters. Do you see?
Watson: But it’s the solar system!
Sherlock: Oh H$%! What does that matter?! So we go around the sun. If we went around the Moon…or round and round the garden like a teddy bear it wouldn’t make any difference! All that matters to me is the work! Without that my brain rots.
While I realize that this is simply a scene from a fictional character, I think we can learn much from Sherlock’s tirade. Yes, what Watson says is true. And the fact that someone as brilliant as Sherlock was unaware of this basic astronomy is surprising.
But let’s step back for a moment. What if we, like Sherlock, didn’t know that the Earth rotated around the Sun. Would it matter? Really?
I am not lobbying for the elimination of a rudimentary knowledge of the world in which we live. On the other hand, I do believe that we are taxing our children’s brains by requiring them to memorize a lot of stuff. Stuff that shows up on multiple choice tests and quizzes and then is never needed again. But it takes up space and as Sherlock mentioned above, causes brains to rot.
How much time do we allow for students to create, explore, fail, experiment and daydream? Because this is where the magic happens. But if their brains are exhausted from memorizing, storing and regurgitating, how much do they have left? Very little I imagine.
So what can we do about this? I believe there are three things we can start tomorrow.
It’s not that we shouldn’t expect our students to store stuff in their brain. We just need to go about it differently. Information should enter and latch onto the brain through assimilation. comparison and application. The days of cramming dates and formulas and lists and rules into our students’ brains need to be gone. Instead, let them enter the brain on their own. When they are ready. When they are needed. If they are needed.
Allow For Periods of Nothing
While I have no research to back this up, I believe that our students are exposed to more external stimulation than ever before. The ability to multitask is seen as a strength by many. We make checklists and have calendars so that a moment does not go unused. The problem is that this leaves no time for the brain to rest. And be clear. Once again, I realize that Sherlock is a fictional character. But if you have ever watched him in action, you know that he does his best thinking when everyone is still and quiet. Let’s try to carve out some of this for our students. For ourselves.
Assign Thought-Worthy Tasks
Once we have succeeded in creating the time and the space for our students to create and problem solve, then we must give them tools and tasks that allow them to use the newfound brain space. Simply having them fill in a worksheet or color in some bubbles is not acceptable. Doing this would be like handing a child a pack of 64 crayons and a Post It note. The odds are they would only use one or two of the crayons. We want to provide them the opportunity to use the whole pack. And maybe even the sharpener on the back! They need a sheet of poster paper and room to spread out.
Let’s make it our mission to see that our students’ brains are used for what they were designed to do. Create and design and experiment and…
Grown-ups love figures…When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? “Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
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