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The complete question

The response to your new book, Why Don’t Students Like School (opens in a new window), has been tremendous. Why do you think policy makers and educators are so drawn to your work? What about today’s educational climate makes the findings from cognitive science so pertinent?

Expert answer

That’s a generous assessment. I don’t really know why people like my writing, but I can tell you two principles that I try to use in thinking about schooling. First, I try to remain theoretically agnostic. I try not to adhere to a “school of thought,” but just to size up the data that are available. Naturally, the way that anyone evaluates data is colored by what he or she already believes. But there are tricks you can employ that help to keep you honest. (For example, saying to yourself “I believe X is true. Suppose the opposite of X is true — can I make the available data fit that proposition?”).

I’m aided by this in my background, which is in cognitive neuroscience. People in that field are very data-oriented, and the field is fast-moving. If you’re not open to changing your mind as new data come in, you won’t last long. Second, I try to take a large-scale, system-wide view. One of the big dangers in education is oversimplification. “Oh, it looks like X improves learning. We need more X in schools.” But putting X in schools might have far-reaching consequences. What does X do to student motivation? What do teachers think about X? It’s essential to have a system-wide view.

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