Changing Children’s Minds

This is the title of a book by Howard Sharron and Martha Coulter which I’ve recently been re-reading.  It describes the inspiring work of Reuven Feuerstein, the Israeli teacher and psychologist.

It is a lesson to everyone engaged in education to treat with caution the claims of “science” in pre-scientific subjects like psychology. Feuerstein was one of the survivors of the Holocaust who made his home in Israel after the Second World War. As a psychologist, he was confronted with helping children who had survived the camps to lead a useful life in their new country. However, he was shocked to discover that the conventional psychologists of the time diagnosed a wholly disproportionate number of them as educationally sub-normal. Luckily, Feuerstein was more of a teacher than a psychologist and he refused to accept that these remnants of European Jewry, however horrific their experiences, were ineducable.Unlike the Western psychologists of the time, who remained detached from the children they were assessing, Feuerstein intervened as he tested and found that the minds of these children, distressed as they were, could be changed. So began his life’s work of analysing the many separate components of what goes to make up human intelligence. For example, carers induct little children into social behaviour in such matters as following a daily routine, orientation in space,  and singling out the important factors in problem solving.  Many of these experiences were missing in these survivors.

The next fifty years were spent by Feuerstein and his students describing the human cognitive map and recognising when children and adults were deficient in some parts of it. When these were identified, Feuerstein developed teaching programmes to supply the deficiency. Children (and later adults) given up on by conventional psychology often turned out to be academically gifted people who made a great contribution to society.

Later chapters of the book show how Feuerstein’s work is paralleled by Vygotsky’s in the different social environment of the Soviet Union, has been used in prisons and in conductive education.

There are useful sites on the internet about Feuerstein and his work. Also I found a fascinating article in the Guardian (13.06.12) about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, who changed her own mind and has isolated 19 distinct cognitive functions which make normal life possible.

One point in Changing Children’s Minds that rings true is that most adults, including professors of psychology are to some extent cognitively impaired!

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