Hidden Brain – A Podcast for Teachers?

Everything seems to go full circle. In my youth in the 80s, radio was dying – now it’s exploding in popularity in the on-demand format of Podcasts. As a cliched middle-class coffee-drinker, of course I listen to podcasts. I’m sure somewhere there’s a podcast that matches coffee tastes to podcasts. In two recent episodes of my favourite, The Hidden Brain, it highlighted to me how much I see everything through an educator’s lens. This is not a podcast about teaching, it’s about psychology, and neither episode were about teaching or learning, but as has happened a number of times, both episodes had magical moments that made me consider serious issues in education. I thought I would highlight a few more episode moments and what they meant to me as a teacher.

Episode: I buy therefore I am.

Topic: How branding effects our thoughts and actions

Magic moment: Research on The placebo effect of sports branding asked golfers to spend time on the putting green. Half were told they were using a Nike putter, while the other half were simply given the same putters to use. As you might have guessed, being told you were using a new Nike putter had significant effects on your putting scores. A similar test was performed using ‘3M” earplugs in exam settings with the same results.

Teacher lens: Should we continue to rank students against each other when we know a minority arrive at school being told they hold life’s “Nike Putter”. Education doesn’t pay enough attention to the minute-by-minute benefit of simply believing you should be getting top grades. Someone from a “Nike” home where resources (money, time, parent education) and support (energy and ability to help with study) has an advantage that compounds during each minute of the day. This psychological boost changes every decision, reaction and priority they take. This is one of many variables that all school testing and examination lazily fails to account for. Exams measure personal sense of worthiness before any kind of ability.

Episode: One Head, Two Brains

Topic: How we’ve built modern society only by using to our left-brain

Magic moment: the Industrial revolution and particularly the 20th century shifted all our priorities to the precise, the definite, and the measurable understood by our left-brain thinking. The big-picture, metaphorical, creative thoughts that happen in our right-brain have been devalued by industry and now society.

Teacher lens: To me, this summed up all our problems in schools. Too many teachers and parents have lost interest in what school means to a child (big-picture right-brain) through dominant priorities towards measuring and sorting young people (left-brain). 200 years of precision and measurement has led to fantastic economic and technological advancements but often at the expense of human experience and life fulfilment. The structures and procedures used in high schools and universities were designed by people dominated left-brain and although both sides of our brain are of equal importance, it is now time to redesign our school priorities with at least 50% of our thoughts issued by our right-brain. This might help those overly-measured teenagers deal a little with their soaring anxiety.

Episode: Kinder-Gardening

Topic: parenting styles – “I can personally shape my child” verses “I’ll create the environment that nurtures a child”

Magic moment: The interviewee uses a great analogy comparing a carpenter to a gardener. Both create products for market but one is focused on their own skills to shape the wood and the other focuses on the environment. If the product fails, the carpenter looks at their skills and the wood to blame, the gardener doesn’t blame the raw material but looks at the quality of the nurturing environment. Conclusion: parenting like a gardener is healthier for everyone.

Teacher lens: I wrote a whole post on this one! (Read here) But again, exam success is decided by the full environment a student lives in. Carpenters are also a little too comfortable with the idea of off-cuts. Raw material that won’t conform is thrown to the trash – a regular experience for millions of young people. Let’s change the environment like a gardener so that all find their own nurturing spot in the school.

P.S. Revisionist History is great too.

Episode: The Tortoise and the Hare

Topic: The difference between what makes a good court clerk and how they test for them.

Magic moment: The test conditions under which people are tested for law school are the opposite to what’s required in a good court clerk … but nobody cares. To link back to the first episode on branding, Supreme Court judges are more concerned with which school you went to. Conclusion: in the tortoise and the hare parable, the tortoise wins. Testing only seems to look for hares.

Teacher lens: Another reason to end standardised testing at all levels – almost nobody outside education trusts or bothers with the results as what they prove isn’t useful.