Literally: Can’t shut up to learn history

There should be a Congressional Medal of Honor, or something similar, for junior high school and middle school teachers. Particularly the boys can be among the most irritating creatures on Earth, above mosquitoes in a tent on a hot night, above a cat who wants you awake at 4:30 a.m. Such teachers, afflicted by kids who appear absolutely unable to be quiet long enough to allow two sentences together into their heads, face audiences more daunting than any faced by non-funny comedians, or by school boards proposing an increase in taxes.

Maturing teenage brains

Now we have the MRI images to demonstrate that it’s true, and why. Jake Young at Pure Pedantry has a post on the research (just published in Nature), with good links to the videos of the maturing teenage brain.

One theory is that teenagers are actually from a separate barbarian race. However, I suspect that there is also an underlying neurological reason for this barbaric behavior that has to do with the different rates of brain maturation in the human cortex.

The neurological changes that happen in the human brain over adolescence are described in a great article by Kendall Powell in Nature.

Alas, no sure-fire lesson plans, nor even hints of teacher survival strategies accompany the research findings.

Santayana was right: Some of these kids will be condemned to repeat history, either Texas history, or U.S. history to 1877.

3 Responses to Literally: Can’t shut up to learn history

  1. […] I do expect a striving for balance, however. So I was surprised to find, in an on-line test of American history and government at the site of Newsweek Magazine, that conservative misinformation about religious freedom had crept into “MSM.” A poster, Bernarda, pointed to the poll in comments to an earlier post. […]


  2. bernarda says:

    Here are a couple of civics tests.

    It is interesting to read the results.


  3. DavidD says:

    Do you remember the song “Officer Krupke”, from West Side Story? Everybody passes the buck on why these hoodlums are hoodlums, whether it’s a social problem or psychological, whether someone needs his head shrunk or a “year in the pen”.

    Clinically there really may be such dumping of problems from one speciality to another, but in research it’s certainly just the opposite. If I do social research or psychological research, I’m going to say my area is key to understanding the problem. Likewise for physical research, only how much do the results actually explain?

    Girls mature before boys in many ways. Maturity among just boys varies a lot. I was almost to my adult height by 6th grade. Some guys I towered over then had almost caught up with me by the end of high school. Was my behavioral maturity due to my height? My height certainly wasn’t directly the cause of my being well behaved. Was there some factor that made me mature quickly in both ways? If there was, how connected my prefrontal cortex was would have been an effect of that, not a cause.

    There is some plausibility in saying that the connections to my prefrontal cortex caused my behavioral maturity, but it easily could be that this is no more valid than saying that my height caused my behavioral maturity. The latter is certainly a correlation, but not a cause. The former could be the same. Behavioral maturity could depend on a more diffuse process in the brain, on neurotransmitters, on gray cells, or it could still be more cultural than a paper like this one suggests.

    There is a problem with much of neuroimaging. Much of it is interpretation, not data. The data is clear enough regarding activity in different parts of the brain, but what does it mean? Researchers reach for what might be meaningful in their results, but there is no data in this paper that connects the boys talking at the movies behind Jake Young to immature connections with the prefrontal cortex. The reality could still be that the biggest factor in that behavior is cultural, that these particular boys were raised in a way that told them they could do whatever they damn well please or that whatever physical factors there are have nothing to do with the data here. Where is the study that looks at physical or cultural feature across a spectrum of boys and tracks that against the behavior? That’s harder to do, of course, but without data of that sort, there is nothing here but speculation.

    Still people like the speculation that there are physical reasons for people to be what they are. The old, rigid requirements for behavior were too harsh, so here’s a reason to be flexible and forgiving. Flexibility is good, but it’s still good even if it turns out that behavior is much more conditioned than innate. Physical differences don’t make conditioning useless. And you probably know that to label someone is to limit that person’s potential.

    I suspect that in a hundred years we will know much more about human behavior than we know now. All 25,000 of our genes will be known in detail. That will not only show us what is genetic, but make it clearer than ever before what is not genetic. The neuroscience revolution will help as well, though it’s less clear to me how. My neuroscience training hasn’t caused me to be a cheerleader in this, but rather suspicious of the claims researchers make, from stem cells curing spinal cord injuries to neuroimaging being the equivalent of telepathy. The older I get the more I consider the possibility that the brain is only a little closer to the mind than the spinal cord is. That might take 200 years before many are willing to say that.

    In the meantime, it’s helpful to be clear on the difference between what is data and what is speculation. It’s an impossible task, but like some other impossible tasks, the impossibility of it is not an obstacle to going somewhat in that direction.


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