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Why Schools Don't Value Spatial Reasoning
01-03-2012, 12:33 PM
Post: #1
Why Schools Don't Value Spatial Reasoning
SOURCE
http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/20...ing/print/

Why Schools Don't Value Spatial Reasoning

Yale intelligence researcher Jonathan Wai has an interesting column in which he questions why our educational system doesn’t value spatial reasoning as much as it values math and verbal reasoning.

But what about that kid who is a mechanical genius; who can take apart and put back together just about anything; who is like Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Iron Man, but who really has little interest in words or numbers? Is there a place for this talented kid in our school system? Do we value the talent of this individual as much as the talents of students who can write compelling essays, who can solve complex equations, and who can read great works of literature?

I don’t think we do.

For students who are not talented with words and numbers but who are talented with mentally rotating figures and shapes in their minds, there is often very little offered to recognize and challenge them in the regular school system.


Wai suggests – and I agree – that we need to do more to train students to improve their spatial reasoning, their ability to work with their hands, and search for those who are talented in spatial reasoning.

To do so, though, we need to first understand why the education system isn’t geared towards a lot of spatial reasoning in the first place. I don’t have a lot of hard data, but I can make some educated guesses. First of all, I’d guess that the people most drawn to education in the first place are precisely the people most comfortable with verbal and math reasoning – introducing bias in favor of those skills right away.

Second, I’d guess that it’s a matter of resources. Math and verbal skills can be taught with a minimum amount of equipment – paper, pencils, and books. Spatial reasoning requires hands on learning, which requires more materials and ultimately more resources. In a time of budget crunching and slashing resources from schools, it’s that much harder to get more equipment in – especially when it’s not geared to what’s already taught.

Third, I suspect that testing spatial reasoning, especially in a standardized way, is more difficult than standardizing the testing of math and verbal skills. Again, this has to do with the limitation of resources and the limitation of trying to test 3-dimensional reasoning on a 2-dimensional surface.

Fourth and finally, I think there’s a predominantly cultural attitude regarding spatial abilities. First, manual labor is looked down upon by a solid class of people. You don’t go to college to be a mechanic or a machinist, right? And the other end of the cultural spectrum of people with good spatial reasoning are highly educated architects and engineers – who don’t get into the nitty gritty until college or beyond. That means that for most people who go to college and looking for a career don’t have experience with working with their hands, unless its minor home projects or the like. Which means that such skills are either seen as being “beneath” or unattainably advanced to most people.

I think that this attitude is unfortunate, but it goes hand in hand with the growth of an economy of knowledge workers and service providers.

For my own part, I wish that schools did teach more hands-on, technical skills that involved spatial reasoning. I’m only just now finding I have the time to explore that world and I’m constantly frustrated by basic things that I have to learn that I should have been taught long ago.

I think that there are some interesting counter-trends that may prevail in the future. The Maker and DIY movements for one. The constraints of living in a recession. More interest in food preparation. All of these things point to a trend that people are becoming more and more interested in building things and doing things for themselves. I hope that those trends continue – and there’s good reason to think that they will. If they do, I suspect that there will be more pressure from the public on the education system to improve spatial reasoning education.

Until that cultural change happens, though, I suspect that those kids and their parents interested in the world of spatial intelligence will still have to find avenues outside of school to hone their skills.
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