He started with his daughter and then son. So writing a book about teaching Shakespeare to kids may have seemed natural: Your book reinvigorated Shakespeare for me, to see his work with fresh eyes.
Modern popular neuroscience often holds out the same promise: If you know how that muscle inside your head works, you can exploit it better. That is the thesis of Jonah Lehrer's The Decisive Moment, which marries grandiose claims of revelation with a predictably formulaic structure: An increasing amount is known about what sort of patterns of neuron firing generally precede and accompany various kinds of decision - but exactly how they translate into what we experience as decisions is a much trickier proposition.
And this difficulty is embedded in Lehrer's language. He is driven to anthropomorphise neurons themselves. Of a British naval commander who somehow knew to shoot down an enemy missile that had the same radar profile as a US jet, Lehrer hypothesises: How can a neuron be surprised, any more than a neuron can be happy, or a neuron can prefer Chopin to Wagner?
Only if the neuron itself has a mind, which implies a useless infinite regress. With no apparent irony, Lehrer even calls dopamine, in one sub-heading, "The Molecule of Intuition", which rather recalls George Lucas's attempt to explain the Force by appeal to Midi-Chlorians in the Jedi bloodstream.
One of the main messages of Lehrer's book is that making decisions is not a purely rational affair but depends also on the emotions which are the result, as he claims, of lots of unconscious information-processing done by the dopamine neurons. As usual, Lehrer overstates the novelty of his lesson.
Throughout his book, indeed, we find familiar wisdom dressed up in shiny new scientific vocabulary. One lesson of those useful dopamine neurons, for example, is that you can only learn by focusing on your mistakes.
Telling children that they are intelligent has much worse results than telling them that they worked hard. A similar argument is made in Ken Robinson's sympathetic and interesting book, The Element, which is about helping people to find out what matters most to them, and then to do it - if not as their job, then at least in their "recreation" time.
Naturally a lot depends on the educational system: This kind of thing is always a useful corrective to the kind of smug liberal-arts columnist who mocks the alleged "stupidity" of footballers, though the danger is that if you protest too much in the other direction, as both Robinson and Lehrer sometimes do, it looks as though you are arguing that what is needed in the world is less reason, rather than more.
But Robinson goes even further in one sense, citing research on the enteric nervous system, "a 'second brain' inside the intestines" so "gut feelings" are not wholly metaphorical.
In comparison, Lehrer's book seems to suffer from a rather old-fashioned kind of cranial bias, according to which everything of subjective interest happens inside the skull and nowhere else.
Halfway through Lehrer's book, however, things are turned upside-down and the book begins to concentrate on situations in which we'd be foolish to rely on our emotions - for instance if we were flying a plane that had lost all hydraulic control, or trying to figure a way out of a forest fire.
Sometimes, Lehrer reveals, we should take the time to consciously and rationally think through a decision, because believe it or not! Well, any self-help manual worth its salt would not leave the reader hanging on the horns of this dilemma without some general rule of thumb - when should we trust our feelings, and when shouldn't we?
Both Aristotle and William James already knew, after all, that the key was choosing the right deliberative system for the job at hand. And now, promises Lehrer, neuroscience can explain how. He builds up slowly to the big payoff enjoy the casual Oedipal swipe at Malcolm Gladwell in his use of the word "blink": These simple decisions won't overwhelm the prefrontal cortex.
In fact, they are so simple that they tend to trip up the emotions, which don't know how to compare prices or compute the odds of a poker hand Complex problems, on the other hand, require the processing powers of the emotional brain, the supercomputer of the mind.
This doesn't mean you can just blink and know what to do - even the unconscious takes a little time to process information - but it does suggest that there's a better way to make difficult decisions. When choosing a couch, or holding a mysterious set of cards, always listen to your feelings.
They know more than you do. Still, Lehrer's system would no doubt help Robinson, who grumbles about the "excessive decision-making" involved in choosing a hire car. But it is Robinson who describes more explicitly the therapeutic ambition of both authors:Creative Schools: Sir Ken Got it the Wrong Way Round in his New Book A Review and Commentary by Paul Henderson.
After eagerly anticipating the publication of Ken Robinson’s new book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (Viking, ) with expectations held high, I was sorely disappointed when I read it because, to me at least, the ideas put forward did.
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Loy Machedo’s Book Review – The Element by Sir Ken Robinson Sir Kenneth Robinson is an English Author, Speaker, and International Advisor on Education in the Arts to government, Non-Profits, Education, and Art Bodies/5.
All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education In , Ken Robinson led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy forthe UK Government bringing together leading business people, scientists, artists and educators.
His report, All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (The Robinson Report) was published to huge acclaim. The shadow secretary of state salutes Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica’s powerful manifesto which opposes standardised testing and calls for a more inspirational approach to teaching.