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Monday, June 26, 2006

If you want me to try, tell me why!



After following some fascinating posts at Kathy Sierra's blog, I came across some of the current research on the brain over at science daily, I came across a fascinating article entitled Scientists detect two decision making pathways in the human brain.

The finding, published in the October 15, 2004, issue of Science has broad implications for predicting economic and behavioral health patterns, says Richard Suzman, Ph.D., Director of the NIA's Behavioral and Social Research Program.
As the scientists studied the brain patterns of those who were faced with immediate reward versus delayed gratification, they found that the emotional portions of the brain were more activated in those who chose immediate gratification. The deliberative areas were strongly used when a person chose delayed rewards. The article says:

When participants chose between incentives that included an immediate reward, fMRI scans indicated heightened activity in parts of the brain, such as the limbic system, that are associated with emotional decision making. In contrast, deliberative and analytic regions of the brain, such as the prefrontal and parietal cortex, were activated by all decisions, even those that did not involve an immediate reward. However, when participants resisted immediate rewards and instead chose delayed rewards, activity was particularly strong in these deliberative areas of the brain.
These scientists particularly see an application for helping people make healthy decisions and buying choices. However, I see that this research could help as we show students the value of education. (Graduating, doing homework, studying.)

For example, because most students graduate after age 16, ultimately it is the student's choice to complete high school. With almost one third of American students not graduating from high school, I would have to wonder if the immediate gratification / emotional decision to drop out is not being counterbalanced by the evidence for graduating from high school that would help the students deliberate more effectively on such a life changing decision.

So very often, students graduate because parents insist, but when the parents do not have influence, we must educate students on WHY they should advance their education. I think this information must be told to children often and at a young age in terms of:
  • earning potential (See the US Census)
  • lifestyle
There are so many facts to bear out the importance of graduating from high school. (Go to Google and type Why should I graduate from high school and you get nothing of meaning!) We are often so concerned with offending the plethora of high school drop outs that are already out there that we sometimes gloss over the significant decision children make when they are dropping out of school. We are not selling the reason students need education! Why should they try?

A Van down by the River?

My students and I often joke about the Chris Farley Saturday Night Live flick where the parents bring in Chris to give a "motivational speech" to their "wayward" teens. Chris spends the whole time yelling at these innocent looking children and telling them they are going to end up living in a "van down by the river" if they don't get serious about life!

I'm not talking about yelling at children or forcing my own views upon them like Chris' hilarious character. But I often tell them about the various studies that cite the difference in earnings that I have come across. I am encouraging my students not to just graduate from high school but attend and complete college! They will live better lives!

Put reasons in the deliberative part of the brain while they are listening!

Education is important but if we leave the decision to stay in school to the emotional short term decision making of students without some meaningful input into the deliberative part of the brain, I think this study confirms we are asking for trouble.

I can hear students saying:

"Don't just tell me not to drop out of school, tell me WHY!"

Isn't the call of most teenagers these days: "WHY?" This is one question we should answer early and answer often about education. Are we?

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