Tonight as I was reading it I was struck by two things. First, with the way that his analysis of the problems with schools lines up with Foucault's analysis of normalizing power in Discipline & Punish. Claxton explains how schools are weighed down by the inadequate metaphor of school as a factory line where students do 'work' in order to come out as a finished product. He explains how a poor learning environment is created through a combination of the management of space in schools, the vocabulary used (dominant discourses), major activities, and examples set by teachers.
This comes quite close to Foucault's criteria he uses to define disciplinary institutions. He says that "discipline creates out of bodies the bodies it controls... an individuality that is endowed with four characteristics: it is cellular (by the play of spatial distribution), it is organic (by the coding of activities), it is genetic (by the accumulation of time), it is combinatory (by the composition of forces). And, in doing so, it operates four great techniques: it draws up tables; it prescribes movements; it imposes exercises; lastly, in order to obtain the combination of forces, it arranges 'tactics'." (167, emphasis added). Foucault is a bit difficult to read here, especially at the end of the quotation. But it should be clear that the control of space, activity, time, and organization is vital to Foucault's analysis of how disciplinary institutions function. Similarly, these are the criteria that Claxton identifies with the school systems that he is trying to argue against.
Interesting connection, I think.
There is also oodles and oodles of connections to Collingwood that are coming out of this book. For one thing, Claxton repeatedly talks about the importance of running mental simulations, about the importance of empathy, and the issue of habit. Collingwood addresses all of these issues at one point or another. Empathy perhaps the least.
I also see connections to John Searle and Ian Hacking. Both of these authors are concerned with the ways that language can create certain things, and in particular, identities. Claxton talks about how young people are able to learn better when they are able to think of themselves as learners that are capable of improvement. On the contrary, if students think of themselves as having a fixed potential, they will be less likely to work hard at learning. Claxton says that these labels effect the way that we approach learning. By labeling children smart or dumb, or as flexible learners, we create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that inclines them to act in certain ways. This is what Hacking calls 'making-up people': we literally create certain types of behavior by labeling those behaviors as such. Or what Searle calls status function declarations (maybe). Searle's work is different. But it might apply to identity.
Claxton also talks about the purposeful creation of culture. It makes me think so much of Zizek's work on revolution. He says that a truly radical revolution would be one that went to lengths to create new ways of daily living, it would be a revolution that was both political and cultural.
Lastly, the issue of habit and neuroplasticity permeate the entire book.
So what are the issues I need to discuss in order to synthesize this book into my ideas I already have?
- education and habit
- simulation and habit
- synthetic experience and habit
- cultural revolution and habit
- culture, identity and habit
I don't know how in the world I'll sort all these ideas out.
But at least this book is giving me tips about my own personal learning. It is helping me try to keep calm and patient.
That is part of the reason I chose to read this book. After reading In Defense Of Lost Causes I hit a crisis point with my own learning. So now I need to try and reground my learning.
I'm on my own until I get to grad school. So I gotta think about learning sometimes.