Using the social brain in schools

Thought this was interesting, via Annie Murphy Paul

“Think about how amazing the brain is, and then consider that a huge portion of that amazing brain focuses on making us social. Yet, for a large part of our day, whether we are at work or at school, this extraordinary social machinery in our heads is viewed as a distraction, something that can only get us into trouble and take us away from focusing effectively on the ‘real’ task at hand. We are built to turn our attention to the social world because in our evolutionary past, the better we understood the social environment, the better our lives became. Although the brain is built for focusing on the social world, classrooms are built for focusing on nearly everything but. It isn’t the students’ fault for being distracted by the social world. They desperately want to learn, but what they want to learn about is their social world—how it works and how they can secure a place in it that will maximize their social rewards and minimize the social pain they feel.

Evolutionarily, the social interest of adolescents is no distraction. Rather, it is the most important thing they can learn well. How do our schools respond to these powerful social motivations? Schools take the position that our social urges ought to be left at the door, outside of the classroom: Please turn off your social brain when you enter the classroom; we have learning to do! It’s like telling someone who hasn’t eaten to turn off the desire to eat. Our social hunger must also be satisfied, or it will continue to be a distraction precisely because our bodies know it is critical to our survival. What then is the solution? Giving students a five-minute break during class to socialize? Letting them send text messages as they please? I believe the real solution is to stop making the social brain the enemy during class time and figure out how to engage the social brain as part of the learning process.”

Matthew Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect