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by Ellen Langer

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-201-48839-6
Publisher: Addison-Wesley

 A wonderfully thoughtful and thought-provoking follow-up to the author's earlier study Mindfulness (1989), this time exploring the ill effects of mindlessness in education. After long and careful research, Langer (Psychology/Harvard Univ.) has distilled the basic philosophy of our current, flawed educational system into seven commonly held myths: The basics must be learned so well that they become second nature; paying attention means being focused on one thing at a time; delaying gratification is important; rote memorization is necessary; forgetting is a problem; intelligence is knowing ``what's out there''; and there are right and wrong answers. Showing how many of the problems with education today can be traced to the seven myths and teachers' efforts to mold students with them, Langer counters with five principles of her own, the basis of what she calls ``sideways learning'': openness to novelty; alertness to distinction; sensitivity to different contexts; implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and orientation in the present. She offers alternative approaches based on her five principles, with startling results. For example, when Langer and her colleagues rewrote a chapter from a standard text on finance so that facts were presented as conditional rather than absolute, students who were tested on their creative use of the material did significantly better, and enjoyed the reading more, than those using the original text. Langer's arguments are extremely persuasive and supported with meticulous research. While it's not always clear how to implement her findings, especially for the individual who has been trained in the seven-myth method, this is still an invaluable first step to solving many of the problems of our educational system today. An excellent introduction to what might be (and certainly should be) the next paradigm shift in education. (Author tour)