Why Don’t Students Like School?

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Presumably Daniel Willingham‘s editor gave his book the catchy title, Why Don’t Students Like School? The subtitle describes it more accurately: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. Willingham enumerates nine cognitive principles:

  1. People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers.
  2. Factual knowledge precedes skill.
  3. Memory is the residue of thought.
  4. We understand new things in the context of things we already know.
  5. Proficiency requires practice.
  6. Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.
  7. Children are more alike than different in terms of learning.
  8. Intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.
  9. Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.

Bryan Caplan is a bit annoyed that the book doesn’t answer its own title question and asks, So why don’t students like school? He primes his commenters to answer with a particular notion he has in mind:

Try to frame your answers around the human capital versus the signalling models of education.

Boonton notes that people pretend that the students are the customers, or the parents are, but it’s really the taxpayers, who are paying to lock up troublesome kids. I don’t dispute this, but I must say that it’s an inefficient way to address the problem:

If schools aim to imprison students for the good of their true customers, the taxpayers, may I note that one attracts more flies with honey. New York spends $17,000 per student. An annual pass at Walt Disney World costs around $600.

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