Abstract Thinking

sjohnson at mtsu.edu sjohnson at mtsu.edu
Mon May 14 13:05:50 EST 2001

> Why can't students handle abstract thinking?  Is it because their brains
> simply haven't developed far enough?  Or is it because they aren't being
> taught in school?  Or, being a lot smarter than we often give them credit
> for, have they figured out that in a lot of schools and even college
> courses, abstract thinking will get you nowhere, and memorization, and
> figuring out "what the professor wants you to say," gets you the A's and B's?


i choose c - neurologically, aged 17 & older folks are supposed to 
have the structures, but they have often not been challenged to use 
them. so maybe a combination of b&c. i don't think they're not 
being taught, so much as not being challenged to do more than 
repeat what they heard. i have had numerous students complain 
that they understood completely in the lecture but then, on the 
exam, i "changed the wording"! to me that says they're just 
remembering, not learning, certainly not internalizing the material. 

> If it turns out that they potentially could do abstract thinking, but
> either have not been taught, or have learned it's better not to, how do we
> reach them and help them learn to do it?  

better not to? or just unnecessary in most cases - nobody is really 
looking to work harder than necessary. if we're not going to require 
them to think, we can't expect them to do so. but when you require 
it, don't be surprised at the vehemence of their responses. 
managing to challenge adult learners is quite challenging. one 
person attempting to challenge the status quo should be ready to 

the work of jean piaget is at the basis of the work (by anton 
lawson) that i referred to in the earlier post. he acknowledged 
several stages of learning based on a very small sample (his own 
kids!) but they have been tested world-wide and cross culturally 
and found to fit how folks learn and their capacities for learning. 
unfortunately, his theory does not address cultural practices which 
discourage true learning.

Sandra L. Johnson, Ph.D.
Plant Physiological Ecologist
Middle Tennessee State University
Biology Department     PO Box 60
Murfreesboro, TN  31732

Phone: (615) 898-2021
FAX: (615) 898-5093


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