Phi Beta Cons

The Reinvention of Solitude?

Recent articles (here and here) detail research showing that collaborative creative efforts, or brainstorming, are not effective. Individual effort is still best and, in fact, brainstorming may make people less creative. A lot of this has actually been known for a long time, but has been ignored by experts committed to the technique. Classrooms and workplaces have been redesigned to allow the supposedly fruitful flow of ideas and information in a collective manner, but privacy and freedom from interruption have been shown to be more conducive to productivity. In education especially, research has shown that collaborative learning, group projects, and the like, yield no gains, and that working individually is still best for the acquisition of knowledge and development of skills. This was brought out by the authors of Academically Adrift.

In addition, research has found that debate and criticism are crucial in getting past obvious and predictable ideas; people go deeper and become more thoughtful when challenged and criticized, and conflicting perspectives can sharpen and clarify what is important. This goes against various contemporary educational theories that insist no one should criticize or challenge, that everyone’s ideas and opinions must be respected and accepted as equally valid. This is one of the reasons that college education has become thin gruel and that young people today are often at a loss to explain themselves or defend an idea, and lapse into personal opinion and relativism. It may even have contributed to their childish ways of speaking and their often high-pitched voices.

Imagine, an entire generation has been educated according to these totally fallacious ideas. One wants to know why. No doubt the levelling and supposedly democratizing effect of these approaches appeals to the educationists of our day. Also the removal of criticism helps false PC ideas to survive when honest discussion would eventually demolished them. One diversity publication I wrote about some time ago described the ideal college-level discussion; welfare policy was the not-accidental subject chosen for the example. Welfare recipients would be present, everyone would participate equally, and no one would be allowed to challenge what anyone had to say. We can be glad that the truth is emerging, and perhaps look forward to undoing some the damage, but we should also remember how easily human beings can be ensnared by false prophets.          

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