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Education System Messes Up the Brain’s Interpreter Module; Exacerbates Partisanship

During my daily commute I’ve been listening to the audio version of Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, by Michael S. Gazzaniga. 

Gazzaniga’s insights about the human brain help to make the case that the most effective strategy in The War On Partisanship would be my education program.

The brain is a wonder of multiple conscious and subconscious parallel processes that simultaneously manage a myriad of functions like heartbeat, breathing, driving a car, and singing along with the radio.  It does this though something called the interpreter module:

So, here we are, back to the leading question of the chapter: How come we have that powerful, almost self-evident feeling that we are unified when we are comprised of a gazillion modules? We do not experience a thousand chattering voices, but a unified experience. Consciousness flows easily and naturally from one moment to the next with a single, unified, and coherent narrative. The psychological unity we experience emerges out of the specialized system called “the interpreter” that generates explanations about our perceptions, memories, and actions and the relationships among them. 25 This leads to a personal narrative, the story that ties together all the disparate aspects of our conscious experience into a coherent whole: order from chaos. The interpreter module appears to be uniquely human and specialized to the left hemisphere. Its drive to generate hypotheses is the trigger for human beliefs, which, in turn, constrain our brain. (page 102).

The interpreter module is a pattern matcher.

It compares inputs received through the senses with known patterns.

It “generates explanations about our perceptions, memories, and actions and the relationships among them.”

The explanation it creates is the first and easiest one it can find.

The explanation is only as good as the data available to the interpreter module. Garbage in, garbage out.

We’re born with some of that data.  We’re predisposed by evolution to recognize certain patterns; certain data.  For example, it’s easier for us to like flowers and kittens than it is to like spiders or snakes.

Experience further refines, enhances, emphasizes, deemphasizes, the data.

Experience includes a) formal education, and b) things that happen to us as we move through life.

Research by the folks at Heterodox Academy shows that for all practical purposes America’s formal education system is ideologically pure. It tends to emphasize and sacralize patterns – virtues, values, principles, ideas, concepts, beliefs, narratives, etc. – associated with the individualizing foundations, and it tends to eschew and demonizes patterns associated with the binding foundations. In this way it reduces the data available to our children’s interpreter modules (garbage in), and deprives them of a fuller, more robust, more complete, suite of patterns through which to interpret the social world than they might otherwise attain and certainly deserve.

The institution of education thus systematically robs our children of the possibility of a wider, deeper, and more accurate understanding of human nature, themselves, others, and the social world than they might otherwise develop; an understanding that would better equip them to function and find happiness in that world. It reduces rather than increases, empathy, compassion, diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance. It literally brainwashes and infantilizes our children (garbage out).

The education industry shapes the path of our children’s elephants by narrowing it and aiming it in one particular direction rather than by widening it in a way that would allow their elephants to make informed choices of their own. The long arduous road of elephant training toward the Orwellian moral myopia and cognitively distorted thinking otherwise known as The Coddling of the American Mind, and The Yale Problem and others that in turn result from, begins in Kindergarten.

In sum, the education system not only fails miserably at the purpose for which it exists, but further actually manages to achieve the opposite, and in so doing it exacerbates rather than ameliorates the partisan divide, the rancor that flows back and forth across it, and the Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Since the problem starts in Kindergarten the most effective solution will start there too.


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