kitchen table math, the sequel: 7/26/15 - 8/2/15

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Way too much thinking

I've mentioned (a gazillion times -- sorry!) that I'm writing a book to do with the basal ganglia.

The basal ganglia handle nonconscious learning and intuition. (Turns out intuition is a real thing - ! Basically, intuition is nonconscious category learning.)

Meanwhile, the entire education world is obsessively focused on conscious processes.

Critical thinking.

Problem solving.

GROUP problem solving.

Cognitive science (and common sense) tell us that all of these activities depend upon nonconscious processes, but never mind.

Here's a typical passage describing current thinking (thinking!) in cognitive science:
A great deal of complex cognitive processing occurs at the unconscious level.


It is largely accepted that lower levels of processing (e.g., motor reflexes, sensory analysis) can operate outside of perceptual awareness (implicitly) (e.g., Castiello, Paulignan, & Jeannerod, 1991). And although the existence of nonconscious computations at higher levels (e.g., semantic or inferential processing) has been controversial (Dixon, 1971; Eriksen, 1960; Greenwald, 1992; Holender, 1986), a range of empirical findings on the unconscious over the last several decades has led most cognitive neuroscientists today to believe that mental activity can occur outside of conscious awareness (Hassin, Uleman, & Bargh, 2005). Some have argued that all information processing can, at least in principle, operate without conscious experience, and that consciousness (C) may thus be of a different nature (Chalmers, 1996). This view goes along with the hypothesis that nonconscious processes can achieve the highest levels of representation (Marcel, 1983). A large amount of complex cognitive processing appears to occur at the unconscious level in both healthy and psychiatric and neurological populations. For example, evidence from patients with blindsight (Goebel, Muckli, Zanella, Singer, & Stoerig, 2001; Weiskrantz, 1986), prosopagnosia (Renault, Signoret, Debruille, Breton, & Bolgert, 1989), implicit awareness in hemineglect (Cappelletti & Cipolotti, 2006; Marshall & Halligan, 1988; Vuilleumier et al., 2002), nondeclarative learning even in amnesia (Knowlton, Mangels, & Squire, 1996; Knowlton, Squire & Gluck, 1994; Turnbull & Evans, 2006), and the “split-brain” syndrome (Gazzaniga, 1995) supports the idea that unconsciously processed stimuli can activate high-level cortical regions.

- The Neural Basis of the Dynamic Unconscious
Expertise is heavily nonconscious. Most of the time experts don't know how they do what they do,  they just do it.

Yet all of K-12 these days seems to be premised on the belief that being able to "explain your answer" equals "understanding."

That belief is nonsense on stilts.

Yes, experts think when they solve problems. But eureka moments come out of the depths.

We have no access to our nonconscious minds, and we can't explain what our nonconscious minds do.

What's more, if we didn't have nonconscious minds, we wouldn't solve problems.

So what happens to problem solving when you stop teaching the nonconscious mind?

What happens to problem solving when you believe that conscious "thinking" is all that matters?

Here's Barry on Explaining Your Answer.

Pythagorus (& the cognitive unconscious)

I've just come across this post by Gary Rubenstein: You-reeka-math.

Here's a question.

For 8th grade students, Rubenstein prefers a visual proof of the Pythagorean Theorem to the algebra-based proof in Eureka Math/engageny math.

I follow the engageny math proof, but I can't make head or tails of the visual proof Rubenstein argues is more appropriate.

Am I missing something?

Is the visual proof easier for the teacher to explain, but harder for me to explain to myself?

Related: I've been meaning to read Rubinstein's Reluctant Disciplinarian forever.

I remember a fabulous passage (which I don't have time to fact-check at the moment, so if I'm remembering some other book, I'll have to come back and revise): something to do with novice teachers (Rubinstein) asking the old hands how they dealt with things like spitballs and talking out of turn and the like.

The old hands' advice: "I don't put up with that."

"I don't put up with that" is a classic example of experts having no idea how they do what they do.

Filed under: cognitive unconscious.

The cognitive unconscious is a sadly neglected concept in K-12.

K-12 education: way too much thinking, way too little knowing.


Andrew graduated high school in June and is now, all of a sudden, moving to Jimmy's group home.

Sad story: New York state has zero new group homes opening up for adults with developmental disabilities--and this at the very moment the children of the autism epidemic reach 21. The only adults able to enter the system are homeless and/or orphaned, and they're all on waiting lists. Andrew is getting in by the skin of his teeth because his brother lives in the home and Andrew was already 'in process.' All of which means we can't delay. We take this spot, or we take nothing.

I'm not ready.

I've spent the past two mornings crying, then recovering enough to get some work done.

I remember, several years ago, when my brother's firstborn was leaving for college. My brother and his wife were a wreck. I said, "Well, at least you have two kids still at home," and my brother said, "Right. We get to keep going through this over and over and over again."

Andrew is the third to leave home. Third and last.

Making it so much worse .... he doesn't want to leave. Jimmy didn't want to leave, either, but he was less verbal than Andrew and, after all, we still had two children at home. Hard on him, not as hard on us.

We've found a condo development we love (and that we can probably afford) that's just down the street from the group home, so we plan to be close by forever.

Still, it's not the same.


I don't even know if this is the right thing.

But I don't see, immediately, what else we can do given the fact that we are not going to live forever, and given the equally salient fact that Ed will not be employed forever.

New York seems to be moving to a "system" whereby parents will essentially set up their own group homes with state support .... which so far means 80-year old parents living with tantruming 50-year old autistic people and trying to hire, train, and oversee staff at a time when they themselves are at high risk of becoming disabled if they aren't already.

The officially sanctioned idea seems to be that parents will buy an apartment or a house that becomes the developmentally disabled adult's permanent home.

I don't know whether the state helps with cost of purchase. Sounds like no.

I'm not at all against having such an option, but how many parents who've spent their lives raising a developmentally disabled child are now in a position to buy a second apartment or house in Westchester County, beyond the apartment or house they've living in themselves?

There is state funding available for staff to look after developmentally disabled adults living in parent-bought homes, but who's in charge of the staff?

Is it the parents?

And if it is, what happens when the parents are gone?

Plus: autism is neither simple nor intuitive. A high school graduate can't walk in off the street and know how to deal with a nonverbal autistic adult who has challenging behaviors and an eating disorder to boot.

But maybe there's something I'm not seeing here. I'm going to look into things as soon as I finish my book.

Nevertheless, I suspect what I'll really be doing is finding out that I need to engage politically.

The literature we've been given reeks of good intentions and person-centered ideology run amok.

Developmentally disabled adults must have their own private bedrooms!

Because having your own private bedroom is synonymous with human dignity!

So close down the group homes because adults living in group homes sometimes have roommates!

It sounds to me as if the day programs may be in danger, too.

Developmentally disabled adults have a right to employment in real businesses, outside the confines of sheltered workshops!

Because human dignity!

It's full inclusion for developmentally disabled adults but without the institutional backing or training for the people making all of it happen.

I despair.

No one has a right to employment in private-sector businesses, and the number of "discouraged workers" in prime working age (25-54) is at record or near-record highs.

When only 54% of high school graduates are employed, how exactly are aging parents running their own private group homes going to find private-sector employment for 100% of their developmentally disabled adult children?

And I'm just thinking about autistic adults at the moment, who tend to be hale and hearty. At least, my own two autistic adult children are hale and hearty. One of Jimmy's friends at his group home is in a wheel chair. His mother has diabetes & an infected leg, & she has had difficulty walking herself for several years now. How exactly are people in such circumstances going to get their wheelchair-bound adult child to a job at McDonald's?


I have to hang onto my hat.

We're incredibly lucky to have a loving home for Andrew to move to, where he'll live with his brother, with his father and me just down the street.

I need to hang onto my hat, figure out who's leading the charge, and join the ranks.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The deskilling of U.S. jobs

No idea what to make of this.
The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks
Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, Benjamin M. Sand

Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000. In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow. We go on to show that, in response to this demand reversal, high-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers. This de-skilling process, in turn, results in high-skilled workers pushing low-skilled workers even further down the occupational ladder and, to some degree, out of the labor force all together.