Saturday, November 7, 2015

Descartes' Error

At Summers-Knoll, our strategy of education is built on the conviction that true learning happens when the mind and the heart are engaged.

The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote about the essential mixture of emotion and reason in his book Descartes' Error. The error of the title is in the phrase I think, therefore I am. Damasio's research into the distinct areas of the brain indicated to him that emotion and reason are not separate processes, but are in fact inextricably linked. Without emotion to direct reason, one cannot function in the world. One of this year's eighth graders explored this connection last year in a project on Phineas Gage, victim of a brain injury that compromised his ability to feel. A motivated, well-liked foreman prior to his accident, Gage became sociopathic afterward, unable to attach any kind of moral system to his (otherwise unaffected) cognitive processes.

The crux of our work at SK is about the relationships we as a faculty develop with students. Again, this is not something we do because it's groovy or cool. We establish relationships with our students because that is the best way to promote learning. David Walsh, a presenter at the ISACS conference I attended last week, cited the work of Edward Tronick at Harvard University. Our brains are constantly wiring and re-wiring how neurons fire. Only 17% of these are hard-wired at birth. If we do not have meaningful interactions with other people, our ability to build cognitive and emotional strategies stagnates.

Dr. Tronick's work, repeated cross-culturally, shows how babies respond when their mothers stop responding to them--even if they are still making eye contact and in the immediate vicinity.

Relationships are not an assist to learning. They are absolutely essential.

No comments:

Post a Comment