I fell in love with the Bransford & Schwartz paper “Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications” (1999) the moment they quoted Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid Land camera:
“Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity,” (Land, 1982).
Bransford & Schwartz’s (1999) portrays the effective learner as one who looks critically at their current knowledge and beliefs, and then assimilates new information to their existing concepts or schemas. This critical analysis and assimilation to reshape mental schemas is the first and central element of creativity, of insightfulness. This philosophy of creativity as insight reflects what I have always thought distinguishes not only the effective learner, but a person of great intelligence from a person who suffers from Sloth of the Brain. Intelligence and effective learning seem to be most evident in the characteristics of the adaptive expert, hallmarked by inquiry, effort, and cooperative effort. Critical to this is the willingness to re-examine one’s beliefs and perceptions, to put the effort into ferreting out answers beyond mere guess work.
Bransford and Schwartz (1999) note how people who are not experts in a given domain nor posses adaptive expertise tend to rely on uninformed, intuitive responses and generate erroneous conclusions. This, then, is what I consider Sloth of the Brain. It can be most clearly identified as the person who continues to ineffectually fit the proverbial round peg into the square hole, or who makes bold, inane, uninformed proclamations and is convinced that the proclamation effort alone warrants a Nobel. At heart, it is a failure to ask reflective, substantive questions. It is living life through guess work, and really bad guess work at that. Living by the seat of your pants guess work and failing to ask meaningful questions, relying instead on existing assumptions and a myopia of understanding, Brain Sloths blunder into their own personal Epic Fail of Life. For not only do they inadequately problem solve and cause misery to the people in their immediate path because of their stupidity (see Lane), but they fail to take advantage of opportunities to learn, a cardinal sin for the development and actualization of all people.
But Epic Failure is more complex than just not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn through meaningful questions. It also can be found festering in the notion that success requires knowing All the Answers to All Things at All Times. Bransford & Schwartz (1999), however, recommend a way off of the Epic Failure Path of Life by embracing the mantle of the “accomplished novice”: one who recognizes and celebrates past accomplishments but recognizes that within the vast expanse of all that is knowable in this world, one is still (and will likely always be ) largely a Novice of Life. It harkens back to Plato’s idea of the wise man: he who is most wise knows he knows nothing. For true knowledge stems from an understanding that there is value beyond living life based solely on one’s personal experiences. Rather, the pursuit to understand mankind’s collective experience, known only through a willingness to listen and be open to new possibilities, is the only real path to cease stupidity.
Bransford & Schwartz (1999) note that an important way which learners can modify their understanding of the world is through interacting with their environment in situations that allow learners to “bump up against the world” to test their thinking (83). When things or ideas do not work, the effective learner, or accomplished novice, will revise their thinking and plan, not give up. Instead of abandoning one’s efforts in the face of difficulties and contradictions, then, one should embrace the newfound cognitive disturbance found in conflicting opinions and failed efforts. We need to find ways to integrate new learning and experiences. We need to learn how to modify our prior mental schema of life and knowledge with a new and improved, more informed one. The objective, then, is to nurture the conscious criticism of one’s own metaphysics to continue to partake in the creation of new ideas and perspectives.
Lastly, my nascent love affair of Bransford & Schwartz stems also from their reflections on the value of the arts and humanities. They point to Harry Browdy and quote his argument for the study of poetry which “enriches the imagic store in ways that everyday experiences may not” (Browdy, 1977, p. 11). They note: “He contends that experiences of viewing art or reading poetry have a strong impact on “knowing with” when [art and poetry] are subjected to serious study and analysis. In part, this is because study of the arts and humanities provides invaluable opportunities to contrast surrogate experiences with one’s own. And in part, this is because the arts and humanities offer frameworks for interpreting experiences and helping people develop a more coherent world view.” (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999, p. 85). Essentially, Bransford & Schwartz emphasize the value of engaging in efforts to tease out humanistic truths of knowledge through the arts and humanities. For residing in those domains is an authentic and genuine wisdom about life that emanates beyond the temporal limitations of experience.
Bransford & Schwartz, thus, advocate for the development and commitment to an authentic pursuit of new, well-differentiated knowledge through reflective questioning, and the immersion and study of authentic, genuine experiences – what I would term Wisdom. And it is this emphasis on obtaining Wisdom that is core to preparing ourselves for future learning and insightful living; it is the necessary armor to fight the good fight against the propagation of stupidity.