Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Older People Really are Wiser

Fascinating article about aging and memory at NYtimes.com:
“These findings are all very consistent with the context we’re building for what wisdom is,” she said. “If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.”


Nancy Flanagan said...

Thanks for posting, Aaron, and to the NY Times in striking a blow for geezers everywhere.

Trying to fit/overlay this research on to two ed policy/practice frameworks: #1) the trendy idea that energy, enthusiasm and gold-plated undergrad credentials trump accrued wisdom of veteran teachers (even if it takes three years) in assessing teacher effectiveness--and #2) the discounted research on brain-based educational "strategies."

Barbara Stengel said...

I think Nancy's right that your observation links up with the entire discussion over teacher quality and teacher assessment. I've been thinking about the data that came out with respect to Teach For America last week (cited in the NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/16/opinion/16fri4.html?th&emc=th) with its focus on the power of "talented young people."

Despite my advanced age :-), I'm all for talented young people -- and I have witnessed the kind of energizing effect when smart, energetic, idealistic folks are folded into the mix with experienced (and even tired and/or a bit burnt out) teachers. It's synergistic. But that's the point. The new young teachers all by themselves would not have the same effect. They need the experienced folks and vice versa.

So TFA is great in many ways. Anything that attracts smart young folks into teaching, even temporarily is a good thing. But that doesn't make it an unmitigated good, nor does it make it "the answer." (Consider of course the TFA selection process. Not only do these kids have usable intelligence; they are screened to be open-minded, dedicated, interpersonally connected, imaginative, etc. It seems only reasonable to me that a good number of them could learn to be good teachers in the process of teaching with mentoring. Duh!)

This is one more reason why I think that some reconstruction of the teaching profession/career ladder or whatever we want to call it is needed. There should be a place in schools for smart energetic youngsters who don't want to stay forever (and some who change their minds and decide they do!). There should be a place in schools for mature older folks who are willing to give time and attention to young people in paraprofessional ways. But there must be instructional leadership (not necessarily domination/control) and that leadership can only come from those with the wisdom Aaron alludes to -- and that requires experience and knowledge of various kinds.

Those people can and should be accountable, but the meaning of responsibility and accountability in educational settings needs negotiation and transparency within richness. Few suggestions for teacher accountability offer negotiation and transparency, and almost none offer educative richness.