Thursday, 31 March 2016

To Change A Mind Overnight

Just recently, I was pleasantly surprised to come across an article  titled, How To Change Someone’s Mind According To Science on which I decided to Curate! To say that the article hit a chord with me would be an understatement as I am sure you will agree with after reading through my take on the topic.
It happened about three years and eight months back when I happened to join this school, that according to some of my acquaintances, ‘did things differently’ and were ‘ten years ahead in terms of educational pedagogy!’ Well, I thought that I would give it a try, and presto, the first thing I was asked was whether I had an idea of what ‘Experiential Pedagogy was!’ Well in my eagerness to respond and show them that I was capable enough, I responded that it was all about experimentation and stuff. That pleased them enough and I was in! But what happened gradually was that I realised that they did things indeed differently, and sure I did feel a little disoriented. Gradually it began to sink in that ‘Experiential Pedagogy’ was all about letting the learners learn through an experiential set up with students sitting in crews and not rows, and a teacher who acted as a facilitator. This was indeed disturbing and I was not ready to let go of my inhibitions. Looking at my discomfort, the head of the school advised me to ‘unlearn everything’ in order to be able to change my mind! This was easier said than done, for how does one unlearn an experience of two decades in one go?
It took me a whole three years to gradually understand the benefits of ‘Experiential Learning’ over the more traditional form of learning. By three years I was well into crew sitting, group work, using the projector, researching stuff on the internet, and such rather interesting terms as the ‘Popcorn method’ the ‘Carousel method’ and so on. Although I had always taken up discussion as an important tool throughout my career, the different terms gave new meaning to the kind of discussions that took place in class, and when we were short of time and had to move on, I would tell the students to leave their queries in the parking lot. Well that didn’t mean that I was completely transformed as ultimately some of the leaders in ‘Experiential Pedagogy’ who happened to visit my school over a period of time told me that I had probably been doing all of those things throughout my career from the very beginning, the only thing was that the activities had been given different terms. What had been difficult however for me to let go had been students sitting in crews as opposed to rows, and the teacher stepping back and allowing students to come up with their own albeit valid interpretations of the poem. Gradually it began to sink in that the students would ultimately find their way, and that students who came up with farfetched interpretations would any case be moderated during the discussion or brain-storming session.
Unfortunately, it should not take a period of three years to change someone’s mind! The writer of the article, “How to Change Someone’s Mind, According to Science” , states at the end of the article, “Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop.” It takes years if not ages to form a neural network of ideas in the brain, and to think that one can erase the same and re-write the neural networks that took ages to form in a splint second is invites serious thought! If one knew the secret of how to change these neural networks overnight, than imagine how it could impact education as a whole! A blurb in the article mentioned above reads, “Our strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts”, and these “concepts” are often difficult to change or erase. For ages we have wrongly learned that multi-tasking makes you more efficient and capable, but then recent research forces you to realise that multi-tasking compromises the quality of your work! So how do you get people who have been told that multi-tasking is a good strategy? I grew up in times when TV was the in thing, and I used to study with the TV on! Perhaps it was not a good idea to have watched TV and studied at the same time. My success in exams probably got me to believe that multi-tasking had made me more efficient! Going back to the article, “ psychologists have recognized the interplay among different aspects of knowledge that influence our overall set of beliefs. Building off that research, the cognitive scientist Paul Thagard has more recently put forth the concept of “explanatory coherence”, which suggests “that our strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts”. Thus if I felt that TV viewing and studies went together, then it was because of my strong belief, the reinforcement of which had come from success in exams.
The writer of the article suggests that “To change people’s minds, it’s important to undermine the coherence among the things that they do believe. make them feel worse about their current beliefs. Develop counterarguments to their most significant sources of support. Then expose them to more pieces of information that are consistent with the new belief.” It is clear, therefore that to change minds overnight, (Well that is an exaggeration, surely!) one needs to bring about an emotional change. A person senior to me once told me that to change a student’s mind would require patience and an appeal to his or her better emotions. A most pertinent warning that she gave me and other teachers was never to confront students head on! It is true that very  often it becomes really frustrating to try so hard and apparently not achieve success! Take for example, trying to change a student’s belief that using high sounding words and difficult expressions might fetch him better marks. In the same way, a large number of students believe that writing more in exams would fetch them more marks. Often, “Being settled in what you believe feels good”, so why would one want to be robbed of this feel good sensation, and especially at the cost of letting go of what makes one feel good? The writer of the article comments that, “Feeling even slight reservations about your current beliefs can set the stage for shifting more of your support toward an alternative point of view.” In many cases, one has to introduce an element of disruption in order to promote a change of mind and even promote learning. Resistance to change however does not mean however that your efforts have gone waste. There have been times when a particularly “difficult student” who was apparently someone with a strong conviction about the validity of his opinions met me after a few years and told me to my face that he had seen sense in changing his mind about a particular issue or topic. In his case at least, it had taken many years to bring about a change in his mind, (but then change did happen) and it was not simply because of an insistence that he should change, rather it was because he had been presented with a multitude of evidences from different sources;  to bring about a change in the way he was emotional attached to the way he thought about a particular issue or topic.
If minds can indeed be changed in the shortest possible time, then imagine how beneficial it would be especially in the context of education today. 
A note of caution however is that one should not in anyway think about the need to change minds and attitudes in the form of a propaganda technique meant to expoit vulnerability. Taken as an extreme, indoctrination and brainwashing can be as horrifying as bringing about an unnatural change through hypnosis! A change in attitude and mindset should be a voluntary act in which the subject is a willing partner in a process of training  meant to educate and equip him for a better quality of life! Ideally, the purpose of education is to help make the learner better equipped to deal with the vagaries of life, and moreover, to develop in him essential twenty-first century skills. This does not, however, exclude the need to develop an all round personality which also includes the emotive and social aspects!

How To Change Someone’s Mind, According To Science:
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