David’s teachers sent us an email last week with recommended links related to math work. One of the links they sent us was to an online math class Stanford is offering. I decided we could take that one together so I registered us and we started this past weekend.
So far, a lot of the class is around Myths about Math, recent brain research on learning, and research on making mistakes and the importance (or not) of being fast. Even though I was aware of a lot of this research, hearing it again has been incredibly fascinating and informative.
I can write several blog posts on the things we’ve learned so far but one of the first thoughts that came to me as I was listening was about the difference between how we perceive learning as a kid vs as a grown up. When we’re young, we’re expected not to know much and to always be learning. We send our kids to school and we also try to introduce them to other activities like sports, arts, music, leadership, public speaking, community service, etc. We spend a lot of energy learning, growing, expanding as young people.
We don’t expect them to be brilliant, but we do expect them to keep trying, to keep learning, and to be open. And if they are lucky, our kids don’t get stereotyped as the kid who can do X but can’t do Y. Especially at the younger ages, we encourage them to cast their net wide, to explore, to try and give different things a chance.
But then we are done with official school and expectations around learning seems to change drastically.
By this point, we’re expected to “know” so much. We’re supposed to know what we want to do with our life, what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, what’s worth our time, and on and on. It’s as if up until that moment, our brain was growing, stretching, expanding, but then when we turn 21 and graduate, it’s all over. There’s no more room for growth. Stretching our brain is no longer a priority. And, to make matters worse, we often have very strong opinions on what’s no longer an option for us. “Oh I’m not a math person. It’s too late for me to learn a new language. I can’t draw to save my life. I’m just not talented.”
The Stanford class says there’s data that proves the human brain is very plastic even when we’re adults. We can create new connections and when we practice something new, we do strengthen those areas of the brain, even if we’re old.
So why do we stop learning? Why do we no longer try to grow?
Why isn’t learning encouraged just as much as an adult? Why is it no longer a part of the society’s norm? We encourage our teenagers to gain work experience but we don’t encourage adults to go to school and learn new things.
Maybe I am thinking about this all wrong or maybe I am missing something obvious. Either way, hearing about this research made me decide to embrace the growth mindset and the drive to learn even more strongly. I don’t ever want to be a person who says “it’s too late for me, i can’t learn this anymore.” I want to always keep learning and keep growing and keep stretching my brain.
And I am grateful to know that my brain will continue to respond to that.