We have seen the future, and it sucks.

How School Stole Your Flow

11th November 2017

Read it.

Genuine play exhibits all the classic characteristics of flow. For the child at play, time seems to distort, self-consciousness disappears, and attention is absorbed. In play, there is no fretting, reluctance, or inhibition, so the activity feels effortless, even though the player may be putting forth strenuous effort, say, to beat a video game level. A player might even have a pained look on his face as he pushes up against the limits of his current ability, and yet will later report having had the time of his life.

For the school-minded, any activity freely chosen by the child, no matter how growth-inducing, is considered “mere play” in the denigrated sense. An activity is only deemed “work” and “learning” if it is involuntary and assigned by adults.

Wisdom. Attend.

4 Responses to “How School Stole Your Flow”

  1. JohnK Says:

    No, I won’t read recycled claptrap. Already by the 1990s, cognitive psychologist David C. Geary had made a clear definition of “biologically secondary” skills, many of which are fundamental to schooling, such as reading and multiplication. Biologically secondary skills do not develop spontaneously, and therefore are not culturally robust. Instead, biologically secondary skills in general must be deliberately taught. Biologically secondary skills co-opt “biologically primary” skills such as speech, which do develop spontaneously, and are (relatively) fun to learn, for other purposes. For instance, reading co-opts visual scanning and speech recognition. “Biologically secondary” skills are never fun to learn, and getting better at them normally requires active attention and painstaking practice. Nothing like ‘play’ or ‘flow’. Indeed, already by the 1990s it was firmly known that even the practicing-for-improvement performed by professional athletes was never fun, even for them.

    So no, I won’t read recycled claptrap about the flow-destroying character of schooling. All training in biologically secondary skills – for that matter, even practice by expert athletes and musicians, for example – will never be inherently fun or inherently ‘flowful’.

  2. Tim of Angle Says:

    Geary’s work is itself ‘recycled claptrap’. The distinction between ‘biologically primary’ and ‘biologically secondary’ skills is useful but incomplete, since it artificially (and inaccurately) narrows the characterization of the range of skills to two and even gets those two wrong. (He’s in good company; Marx made the same category of mistake in economics.)

    Biological skills, such a speech, are learned automatically because we are programmed to learn them; ‘fun’ is irrelevant. Social skills such as symbolic manipulation (which includes reading, writing, and arithmetic) may or may not ‘develop spontaneously’ but are sufficiently valuable in an evolutionary sense that successful societies develop ways to encourage their acquisition, some of which are more fun than others. It is that arrangement in our own society that the article addresses, I think in a useful way. You may disagree with the answers they get, but they’re at least asking the right questions.

    Your remark about professional athletes is irrelevant; we aren’t all professional athletes, and how professional athletes train is of no importance to most of us. Your remark about ‘All training etc.’ is equally irrelevant, because it responds to an assertion that was not made and makes an assertion that is supported neither by evidence nor by argument.

    I get the impression that you refuse to read ‘recycled claptrap’ because your mental storage area for that is already full. Fair enough.

  3. JohnK Says:

    Apparently Tim of Angle has never seen anyone grinning like a fool talking to a baby, which baby is equally delighted, or he would not have said that ‘fun’ is no part of the ‘programming’ of speech; in fact, we are ‘programmed’ via ‘do that again’ messages; i.e., pleasure — fun. Nor indeed is the point about the work even professional athletes must do to progress ‘irrelevant’; to the contrary, it shows that gains in performance even for experts (not merely experts) in a domain requires effortful attention and deliberate practice. The lesson applies even more to ordinary folk like us; viz., the lesson is the opposite of ‘irrelevant’. ‘Useful but incomplete’, even by Tim of Angle’s spurious rhetoric, hardly qualifies as ‘recycled claptrap’, by any stretch of the imagination. Nor do Tim of Angle’s direct quotations from the referenced piece in any way support his contention that the piece is about a better-tasting ‘spoonful of sugar’ that helps the (somewhat bitter) medicine go down; to the contrary, every word he quotes thoroughly supports the same old romanticized view of ‘learning’ common to progressive education, which has never been shown to work. And what I particularly fail to understand is the vehemence of a glancing, insufficient, inadequate, uncomprehending, and unlearned response to a mere comment in a blog.

  4. Tim of Angle Says:

    One could make a long list of your failures to understand. But that’s not my job. If you don’t want a serious answer to your comments, don’t make them. it’s that simple.