Monday, January 4, 2010

New ways to teach old tricks

Grammar tips for visual learners?

It's all about the brain

The New York Times recently ran an article detailing what we (by we, I am especially referring to English professors, teachers and avid readers--book "lifers" -- or folks who just might wither into a tiny pulp without a few lines of prose to latch their minds onto) always already knew: the brain is a muscle. Ok, not a muscle really, but something that is certainly within our power to change in a way that makes psychosomatic take on a whole new meaning. It seems we can actually counteract the effects of aging by training our brains to forge dynamic new pathways. Translation: think differently and make new connections and your brain "lives" longer. In a word, brain gym.

What I find especially exciting about this article is that it gives new language to the value of education and life-long learning. At a time when liberal arts programs and the humanities in particular have come under fire for their detachment from specific pre-professional tracks, here we have another example of the countless ways in which analysis and critical thinking transform individual learners. Far from the lofty ideals of the ivory tower, discussions of literature, history, art, and religion have concrete, material payoff. They allow us to "try on" alternative points of view, to stretch neuropathways in new directions and solve new social problems. So, if the brain is a muscle--at least metaphorically--English classrooms might be likened to a kind of training camp, not for a solitary intellectual, "impractical" existence, but for life in all of its gritty, material realities. Train hard, go faster. Read books, think longer. Now if only Nike sponsored teachers...