Food For Thought…

Watch this video.

John Hunter is making a stir as a teacher. Apparently there are 4th graders that know a thing or two about world peace.  Tell me what you think…



I have long held that human minds are capable from very early on but lack knowledge. Likewise, early human minds were capable but lacked knowledge. I think we should be asking kids to solve very complex problems, to think critically, and to act together.

The theory of mind that I find most appealing is one that explains all the questions. The development of the prefrontal cortex in teens explains some behaviors. They don’t possess the critical analysis tools to think about what they are doing – roughly speaking. As they learn to do this, the tools develop in their brains in the prefrontal cortex. That is our brains learn new patterns to recognize and build the networks to recognize those patterns. Self analysis is not really critical until there is maturity in the systems to be analyzed. While the brain is building basic recognition engines, it need not analyze these. When they are built, then we can build secondary and tertiary analysis systems.

The prefrontal cortex is pretty important:

The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the prefrontal cortex area is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social “control” (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes).

Many authors have indicated an integral link between a person’s personality and the functions of the prefrontal cortex.

Yes, I use Wikipedia a lot. It gives short answers with references so my readers do not have to wade through huge medical or psychological papers to see support for my thoughts. If you would like to point me to conflicting information, please do.

Basically, as our brains develop recognition systems, systems to analyze those systems, and systems to analyze those systems, it all starts adding up. It starts with the ability to ‘experience’ input data. This is not in the prefrontal cortex, but clearly gets some help from it. We all make better decisions at 30 than we do at 15. Better hardware/firmware is the reason for much of this. More analysis is the reason, more meta-analysis. From this I can deduce that each layer of analysis and pattern recognition builds on the previous. One simple algorithm or a short list of them is all that is needed to build all of these layers. From the simple we get the very complex.

No, this doesn’t fully explain consciousness but it supports what I’m using as a building block for that explanation.

What do you think?

  1. Rather makes me want to leave retirement and go back into teaching.
    Well, not quite. 🙂
    I know what is capable of elementary minds. And I know we crush and cripple them and keep them in nice neat little rows.
    Actually, I do feel hopeful and know there are wonderful teachers and educators who enable and open up wonderful opportunities for children.

    • Seeing such stories gives me hope!

  2. Well, the bulge above our eyes stopped growing 6,600 generations ago…. and about 6,600 generations ago we became “human” in the modern context. Coincidence?

    • I understand that evolution is true so I don’t think there is a coincidence… direct relationship is the correct phrasing IMO.

      • Exactly.

  3. Hunter’s approach works to stimulate critical, collaborative, and creative thinking. It produces tangible results. This is what a good education is all about: training the mind to work well and produce skills for improved results. Kudos to him for having the courage to assume children are capable. This is very much my experience as well.

    Note that the collaborative successes demonstrated by the game relies on the sophistication of the prefrontal cortex’s executive functioning (the prefrontal cortex is particularly interesting to scientists because it acts like the CEO of the brain, controlling planning, working memory, organization, and modulating mood). How can this be if the prefrontal cortex has yet to fully ‘develop’? Well, gaining knowledge does not account for its ‘development’ in the prepubescent growth spurt; this is a biological response to physical maturation. So if the area functions perfectly well much earlier (as the successful playing of the world game seems to indicate), then to what can we attribute the substantial growth if not ‘development?

    Dr Giidd of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md shares this widespread assumption, that, “(i)t is a good hypothesis that if a particular structure is still immature, the functions it governs will show immaturity.” Hence, the notion of development. But is this correct?

    Well, this hypothesis continues to be held in esteem and widely supported as if it were a given… even when there is compelling evidence to the contrary. The link between presumed immature function (because of a lack of development) with immature behaviour (because of lack of developed executive control) is assumed to be true and then extended into explaining (at least in part) a higher rate of risk behaviour in adolescents. Yet we do not find consistent immaturity (a lack of development) in demonstrated capability of children; instead, we are genuinely surprised to find children (when given the opportunity) highly capable of demonstrating widespread sophisticated executive functioning of this supposedly ‘immature’ (undeveloped) area of the brain.

    This indicates to me that the hypothesis is wrong. And people like Hunter are showing us why.

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