“Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.”
The common sense chapter and a nice wrap-up to a very informative book.
Remember when you were a kid…come on, now, I know you do. You remember getting stung by the bee. Your parents told you not to touch it, but there it was, buzzing around you, so soft and round, and then BAM! There you are running around crying, pain throbbing in your finger. Yeah. I did it. The author’s son did it. In fact, his son even duped him by pointing across the lawn…”Look dad…” and then came the bam. Medina states that they way we learn as babies is the model for how we learn all throughout life. It’s the basis of the scientific method. We observe, formulate a hypothesis, experiment, and come to a sort of conclusion. We test, and test, and test. Every day is a test. Every decision we make is a part of this cycle. We wake up and decide what we are going to do for the day. The simple choice can have profound educational effects.
Look at kids. They are all about breaking stuff. I can’t tell you how many things I had ripped apart when I was little: radios, bicycles, telephones. I wanted to get into the guts of things and learn how they worked. Sometimes they went back together fine, sometimes they didn’t, sometimes they broke, sometimes you got oil on the bicycle repair book from the library and had to pay a $5 fine. Breaking things is good because that’s how we learn.
Medina shared an interesting study by Andy Metzolff that showed babies exhibited imitative behavior as early as 42 minutes old. He stuck his tongue out and the baby did the same.
This totally conflicts with the belief that babies are born as blank slates and know nothing. This baby knew something and they knew it before they were born. Additionally, as we develop, we are always testing the boundaries of people’s preferences and seeing how they react. A study was done at the University of Parma that found the existence of “mirror neurons,” cells whose activity reflect their surroundings and these neurons are present from our moment of birth. We are only beginning to understand the powers of the brain.
Learning is a lifetime journey. We never outgrow our thirst for knowledge and the need to learn. Medina speaks of Nobel prize winners Edmond Fisher and Edwin Krebs who still go to work daily and perform research even though they are in their 70s. From way back in the beginning, our survival was dependent on learning actively on an open and chaotic plane as sabre-tooth tigers tried to hunt us down. Each time we ran, we learned something new…the best places to hide, the best distractions to use, and if not, we died. A little tough, but we gradually learned. And researchers show that we never really do stop learning and the brain does not stop growing. At some point, it just doesn’t stop. We are continually able to grow new connections and even form new neurons. You can teach an old dog new tricks!
Medina goes on to share stories of his childhood where his mother did everything in her power to foster his learning interests, from dinosaurs to mythology to God. Her message to him was that “curiosity itself was the most important thing.” When you are little, discovery brings joy. It’s addictive. You discover one thing, you want to know more. But what happens when we send kids to school? When we show them that an A is the ultimate achievement, rather than curiosity? What happens when we squash that joy?
Ideas to Change the World
- Embrace and encourage curiosity. Create problem-based and discovery-based learning models.
- Take a look at medical schools. They have consistent exposure to the real world, to people who operate in the real world, and to practical research programs. It’s entirely immersive and applicable.
- Create a college of education that studies the brain. After reading this book, it makes a lot of sense to understand more about how the human brain works.
Medina wraps up with a sweet little story about his son taking 15 minutes to walk 20 feet because of all the wonder that he had to stop, absorb, and see. We know this. We hurry through all our adult lives trying to get to the next point without cultivating our curiosity, and we pay the price. So, as you go forth from this today, I hope you:
- Take some time to read this book on your own. It’s really nice.
- Take the time to explore, experiment, observe, or break something. I try to do it sometimes, but not often enough. Hopefully, I will incorporate this habit as I move forward in my life.
Go forth in curiosity and wonder. Enjoy!
Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.