Sunday, November 28, 2010
The Teenage Brain
The baffling and random behavior that comes from the incomplete wiring of the teenage brain is not news to any high school teacher - though even people who deal with teens for a living can always use more information to help understand "why they act that way." This Sunday's edition of Parade Magazine offers a concise and up-to-date summary of what science continues to learn about the development going on "upstairs" in the teenage years.
The most significant ideas are the lack of development in the dorsal lateral pre-frontal lobe - or critical thinking section - of the brain. Teens are, to put it crudely, very much still "brain stem driven cavemen" in the way the see and approach the world. However, the important information for educators, and the education system as a whole, is the understanding the complex process of synapses "pruning" that goes on in these years as the brain prepares itself for what it's actually going to need in life. Unnecessary, or under-utilized, skills and knowledge is shut down.
This "pruning" that will inevitably take place is the most significant argument for a well rounded classical, or liberal, education. However, more than simply exposure to the content, the teachers and the system need to do a much more effective job of explaining and teaching kids what is happening to their own brains and why we do what we do and why we expect what we expect.