Christian Long

Jonathan Drori: What We Think We Know

In TED Talks on April 23, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Reflection by JENNA K.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Jonathan Drori: What We Think We Know

Once we learn something, it is nearly impossible to unlearn it. If I told you that what you consider “left” is actually “right”, and vice versa, it would be extremely difficult for you to integrate that new knowledge into your brain. Jonathan Drori said, “when people have preconceptions about how [something] works, its quite difficult to shift those.” This statement helps stress the importance of teaching and understanding, especially with young children.

According to Drori children get their ideas from experience and interactions, which is why it is important that we ensure that they understand their surroundings to the best of their ability. Does this mean when a young three year old asks where babies come from we shouldn’t answer “the storks drop them on doorsteps like in Dumbo”? Honestly, I think that is a personal decision. But I think it would be much better to just avoid the question then respond with some make believe answer. Drori said, “children come with their own ideas and their own theories, and unless you work with those you won’t be able to shift them.” In other words, when a child is under some common misconception, it would be better to work with them and let them understand why that idea doesn’t work and then help them discover a new explanation that does make sense.

This method should be applied to all learning. It would be much easier to work with what a person already believes they know and enhance that belief, then it would be to completely discredit everything a person believes is true and input totally knew knowledge in their minds. We apply this concept in school all the time because each year, teachers build on what students already know.

Another thing Drori brought up was the importance of using tools that the learner is already familiar with to better understand the world. He said, “good interpretations are more about things of my world, things where there isn’t an extra barrier of understanding.” As a student, I am used to textbooks and teachers using every day examples to help us understand new information. Our textbooks are filled with images of every day scenes, and the information we read answers the question “why?”.

When I thought about what Drori discussed, building on what is already believed and improving peoples’ preconceptions and learning from previous experiences, I began thinking about how we learn languages. If you watch some children shows, or read some picture books, you would notice how adults use things children are already familiar with to learn. When they’re learning how to read they look at the pictures, match up the words to what is going on in the pictures, and eventually they learn the language. This is not just true with children, this is true with anyone learning a language. This is not just true with language, this is true with everything we learn.

In this talk, Drori stresses the important of teaching effectively. As he said, “poor teaching does more harm than good.”

We must continue to build on what is already known, are what we think we already know. We can’t go around teaching false ideas, whether they be minuscule or not, just because it’s convenient. Unlearning the known is difficult, but not necessary, let’s not make things harder than they need to be.


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