Friday, January 30, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become "open" to them. Neighbour (1992) makes the generation of appropriate dissonance into a major feature of tutorial (and other) teaching: he shows how to drive this kind of intellectual wedge between learners' current beliefs and reality.

Beyond this benign if uncomfortable aspect, however, dissonance can go "over the top", leading to two interesting side-effects for learning:

* if someone is called upon to learn something which contradicts what they already think they know — particularly if they are committed to that prior knowledge — they are likely to resist the new learning. Even Carl Rogers recognised this. Accommodation is more difficult than Assimilation, in Piaget's terms.

* and—counter-intuitively, perhaps—if learning something has been difficult, uncomfortable, or even humiliating enough, people are less likely to concede that the content of what has been learned is useless, pointless or valueless. To do so would be to admit that one has been "had", or "conned".

Cognitive dissonance was first investigated by Leon Festinger and associates, arising out of a participant observation study of a cult which believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood, and what happened to its members — particularly the really committed ones who had given up their homes and jobs to work for the cult — when the flood did not happen. While fringe members were more inclined to recognise that they had made fools of themselves and to "put it down to experience", committed members were more likely to re-interpret the evidence to show that they were right all along (the earth was not destroyed because of the faithfulness of the cult members).

HSL's Thoughts and Analysis
The textbook definition of Cognitive Dissonance above came from a website focused on how people learn and how to teach to the various styles of learners. I am sure most educators would agree that it is harder to teach people anything if they come at an issue with pre-conceived (or pre-programmed) ideas about how the world works that are at odds with reality. So where could pre-conceived and/or pre-programmed ideas about the reasons for and goodness of compulsory government education come from? How about:

* The Government and Their School System - The government is happy to teach you all about the legitimacy and desirability of government schools.

* The MainStreamMedia - Controlled by a handful of corporations (5-6) ultimately controlled by the same families, monied interests, and corporations that control the government.

I developed my understanding of the problems and issues of the government school system by studying what the education historians, whistle blowers, and School Sakharovs have thoroughly and painstakingly documented over the years.

Perhaps it's time you began to questions where and how you developed your understanding of the legitimacy and desirability of government schooling.

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."
--Leo Tolstoy


  1. power to you...
    don't let the schools eat your kid's minds.

    i read gatto a few yrs ago.

    keep fighting the good fight, and don't go quietly into that dark night... :)

    my kids want to homeschool theirs... i hope it won't be totally outlawed by that time.

    even if it were, with great dedication you can undo the programming they get. make them smart, understand the game, deal w/it.. and get the hell out intact!

    good luck*

    however, don't expect any backup... you're on your own.
    but i do admire your efforts to enlighten fellow parents.

    k. kelly
    allen, tx

  2. A friend of mine was getting his M.Ed. over in Australia last year. Turned him onto Gatto and he hasn't been the same since :)

    On the other end of the spectrum, my mother's an elementary school teacher. Now the gummint schoolin' up here in Canada isn't nearly so bad as it is down there (though the aims and modus operandi are still the same), so maybe that's part of her problem, but despite the fact that she knows 50% of what she does there is bullshit she still defends government schools and thinks homeschooling is for weird religious nuts and other control freaks.

  3. Some years ago we were lied to by school employees in order to get us to agree to allow our daughter to be in their "gifted program". The school is a very affluent one. The program lasts from fourth grade through eighth grade. I learned four years after she finished it what it was really about. It was five years of brainwashing. Specialized materials are used to change children's fixed beliefs, including Philosophy for Children by Lippman from Montclair State U. in New Jersey. The teacher lied to my face after I figured out what she was doing. This school is in central Ohio.