Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Don't know much about Cognitive Reasoning

Early in life, most American students learn the basic principles of Algebra and scientific method. Associative properties, testing hypotheses, and isolating variables are general concepts with which most eighth grade educated students are familiar. The process of proving theories and understanding causal relationships is drilled into us as we watch soy beans in paper cups and apply construction paper to tri-fold cardboard display boards throughout our adolescent lives.

But for too many adults, the general principles gained from our fundamental math and science programs are rendered dormant after we leave the hallowed shelter of academia - be it high school or higher education. it may be seen as excusable for those who are not in the engineering or medical fields to let these concepts go lax, but what is often overlooked in this mentality is the greater cognitive abilities such lessons foster. The ability to look at a problem and dissect it by variable and most basic element is a necessary skill for anyone, whether they be a waitress or a forklift operator.

Contrary to our own egotistical assumptions, problem solving skills are not born of our natural mental abilities. Just as crosswords puzzles and Ginko Biloba are said to stimulate cognitive function, the math and science that we so painstakingly undergo in intermediate school is integral to the betterment of our society. I can still recall the embarrassing anxiety that welled up within me every time my teacher announced that it was time for timed multiplication tests. Transparencies with single and double digit multiplication problems on them were passed around, and on her word, away we went with our blue markers. Six times three. Seven times nine. Twelve times eight. The black digits stared blankly at me, waiting for my gray matter to kick in and shoot the answers to my shaking left hand. But the only neurons firing were the ones that evoked frustration and tears. The teacher would call for our pens to be put away, and half of my sheet would be left naked, devoid of any mark. Over time, the math we learned moved away from reliance on quick computations of simple equations and moved into more advanced concepts of variability. In this realm I was able to keep up, as speed was not the goal, but accuracy.

Arguments have been made recently that assert that advanced math should not be required in middle school and high school classrooms. This notion is laughably short-sided, and an irresponsible education decision for America. Ask any eleven year old boy or girl if they want to be an engineer or an accountant. The vast majority will respond blankly, or with the same high pitched "Eeewwww!" that accompanies the idea of them eating broccoli. Very few are dedicated to these integral fields at the young age where complex cognitive processes are being learned. The more common aspirations are those of doctor, lawyer, actor, or photographer. Even these require the lessons that advanced math and science provide, though not in as direct a fashion.

In a world where we are increasingly relying on computers and smartphone apps to perform calculations for us, the need for manual and mental processes has never been more important. The skill of basic map reading is becoming extinct in lieu of Google Maps. Calculators replace even the simplest equations - when was the last time someone attempted long division sans the safety net of a Texas Instrument? The ability to process variables and problem solve is couched in the same brain functions as these basic skills that we all too often take for granted or replace with turn-by-turn directions.

I did not always enjoy the math and science courses I took as a youth, but I respect the lessons I learned through those endeavors, and I value the skills that those mentors imbued. Critical reasoning, when coupled with imagination and innovation is the key to real world problem solving. And that balance is best achieved through a well rounded education. So when my child complains about their geometry homework or their science fair project, I will not submit to their requests for the easy way out. They will see the fruits of their labor later in life. I know I certainly have.


1 comment:

  1. As I read this, it struck me that education in this country is really failing; for years, schools have cut and slashed the arts out of the curricula. Granted, budgets don't always allow for all of the programs, and they are presumably being cut so that money can be spent on the so-called "hard sciences"—but now, it sounds like these are getting squeezed out. "No, we won't cut your program, but we'll not give students any incentive to take it. Good luck!" What next, English?