Learning Right And Wrong

Modern society has many problems. Quite a few of them arise from people making poor judgments about what is right and what is wrong. This seems to be happening more and more today. Why is that?

It seems like a thousand "experts" have written books or been on TV or otherwise flaunted their ideas to the public. They all seem to have different ideas but they generally find some specific and shallow answer to curing it. The effectiveness of these approaches has been less than ideal.

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If I was required to capsulize my thoughts on this, I'd just use the word consistency.

It seems that today educators and parents work under the impression that a single clear, logical presentation of a particular fact or subject will forever imprint in a child's brain forever. Well, that's probably true. However, words or incidents that seem to contradict that lesson ALSO get imprinted. A child's brain totals up all of these inputs to come to a conclusion on the ACTUAL fact, as best as he or she could understand it.

An additional but related factor is at work. Repetition. It used to be that students in elementary school had to recite the alphabet and do addition and subtraction and multiplication problems until they were coming out of their ears. Kids generally hated that but that terrible amount of repetition certainly ground those basic facts into their brains. The three Rs. Basic to future life. Close to basic for civilization today.

Modern schools are so occupied in presenting a vast diversity of information to students that they no longer really pound those basic facts in often enough for them to get permanently embedded in their brains.

The alphabet and simple math DO have some special things going for them. The letters are ALWAYS the same and they're ALWAYS in the same order. Five plus seven ALWAYS equals twelve.

Imagine how difficult it would have been to learn addition if in one class the teacher taught you that 2 + 2 = 4 and in a different class the teacher taught you that 2 + 2 = 3. Without a consistent answer, learning addition would have been a nightmare!

Now, consider a subject where there IS no absolutely obvious right answer. What's a kid to do? Some examples:

On the surface, these scenarios don't seem very different. But the last one included an aspect of absolute consistency. Effectively, the parent is teaching something as consistent as 2 + 2 = 4. He is teaching that the homework WILL be checked and the room WILL be checked. After an extended repetition of this, the child will know that as a fact as surely as 2 + 2 = 4.

Most behavioral subjects are FAR more complicated than this.


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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago