The Meaning of Life, Love and the Brain
January 11, 2013

Five links that made us think this week:

Your typical physics teacher lectures on acceleration, atomic numbers, and the Archimedes principle. That is, unless you’re Professor Wright, a physics teacher at Kentucky’s Louisville Male High School. Every year, Professor Wright goes into class asking his students what is the meaning of life? For Wright, the answer is love. Wright’s 12-year-old son Adam suffers from an extremely rare genetic disorder called Joubert’s Disease, which causes his brain to be unable to control his body and coordination. Adam was diagnosed as blind, but one day he was able to see and play with his sister, and is now able to speak in sign language. One day he signed, "Daddy, I love you." How that happened goes well beyond any law of physics. For Professor Wright, it proves that there is no greater force than love.

Photo by Bohringer Friedrich via WikiCommons

At the University of Kentucky, researchers have uncovered bad news for all the monolinguals out there: your brain is slower than the brain of those who are bilingual. Researchers tested both bilinguals and monolinguals to see how long it took them to switch from one cognitive task to another and found that bilinguals were able to respond faster to the shifting prompts. Moreover, bilinguals “reap certain cognitive benefits from switching between languages.” I struggle to understand why in the year 2013 bilingualism still isn’t a requirement in the United States. How do we expect to be world leaders in education when some people in this country consider learning a second language in early childhood “dangerous”, or even worse, unnecessary?

High school students thinking of applying to Harvard but who aren’t too confident about their GPA need not worry. According to a recently released report on education enrollment trends, a demographic decline in students graduating from high school means that there will be less competition for college admission. This decline will also affect universities’ recruitment strategies, as they will now have to start recruiting more heavily and more broadly across diverse geographical territories.

Whatever you do, just make sure you DO get your college degree. A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that those who have a college degree were much less affected by the recession than those without one. The study looked at the drop in employment and income among 21- to 24-year-olds during the recession. Those with just a high school diploma had a 55% employment rate pre-recession, down to 47% today. Those with a bachelor’s degree have a 65% employment rate (down from 69% pre-recession).

It looks like another member of  the “Go-Finland” fan club is proposing ways for the United States to imitate Finland’s education system.  In an article written for The Atlantic, Joel Klein examines Finland’s superior treatment of teachers, asserting that “American education won't succeed until schoolteachers are seen as highly professional men and women.” In Finland, “[O]nly the best and brightest can and do become teachers: Just one in every 10 applicants are accepted to teacher preparation programs.” According to Klein, the diminishing value of the teaching profession is at the root of our problems. He argues that our education outcomes won’t change unless we are able to treat our teachers with the high professional value that they deserve.

That’s it for this week, everyone. Have a great weekend! Pura Vida.

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Category: The Friday Five

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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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