I have mixed feelings about the chapters we read from Ellen Langer’s “The Power of Mindful Learning.” I agree that we should never become complacent in our teaching. As soon as we automatically slip into “lecture mode” and stop noticing that our students are asleep, we’re no longer really teaching anything. To paraphrase Ken Robinson, if no one is learning, then you’re not teaching. I also agree that presenting one method of doing something, like serving a tennis ball, as “the one true way” is detrimental to students’ learning. I learned to add by adding the ones place, then the tens, then the hundreds, and so on. Some children learn to add a little differently, but in the end we always get the same answer.
However, I disagree that being mindful of absolutely everything we’ve learned is always beneficial. I think it’s good that we automatically drive on the left side of the road in this country. Yes, it causes problems when driving in other countries, but when in America, we just don’t have to think about it. That frees up brainpower to do other important things, like watch for pedestrians.
Sometimes putting some tasks on autopilot lets you accomplish amazing things. For instance, I have been belly dancing for about four years now. By this point, certain moves, like shimmies, are ingrained in my muscle memory. That means that I can perform a lot of other moves while shimmying because I don’t have to consciously think about the shimmy anymore. Similarly, isn’t it possible that in math for instance, someone would be able to solve really complicated problems because they don’t have to waste brainpower thinking about how to differentiate? Maybe there are some things that should be mindless.