At the recent Singapore National Education Conference, Professor Allan Snyder (PhD), director of The Centre for the Mind and a co-founder of Emotiv Systems shared why normal children should not be learning through rote methods.
Professor Snyder holds degrees from Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University College, London.
To explain his point Professor Snyder shared the example of a 3 year-old autistic savant artist who is able to draw pictures with photographic realism, but yet cannot appreciate the meaning. He contrasted this to normal children, who do not draw exactly what they see. They draw symbols of what they know — caricatures and concepts — without being able to consciously recall or reproduce the actual details that comprise the concept.
This just goes to show that our brains have developed to extract meaning and formulate concepts. Once a concept arises, we inhibit the literal details that make up its meaning. So any educational program that stresses rote memory is at odds with our intrinsic brain design. “Rote-memorizing imposes autistic-like routines on our otherwise healthy conceptual minds. The autistic mind is so concerned with specific details that it has difficulty grasping the big picture,” shares Professor Snyder.
He goes on to add that a healthy mind actually finds it difficult to memorize facts divorced from meaning. It is meaning that ties facts together into a coherent framework. “The healthy mind rapidly grasps the gist of things, effortlessly recalling situations as a whole. So, we need to teach through big picture concepts, by emphasizing the essence of things. Our minds are exquisitely tuned to receiving this kind of information.”
He further discounts the need for rote learning by expounding that through the Google revolution, rote memorizing has literally become redundant. “All of us can now instantly acquire knowledge about anything. Mere factual knowledge no longer commands the respect and admiration that it once did.”
He suggests that educators take advantage of this by spending less time on drills and formulas, and more time on nurturing creativity. “Creative minds weave disparate facts into a new synthesis, taking ideas from one domain and combining them imaginatively with ideas from another domain, building something new. This is what educational programs should cultivate.”