No one burns themselves twice

Well, okay, some people do burn themselves twice, but hardly anyone. The message is loud and clear, touch the stove and you get burnt, which hurts. There are lots of other things in life people learn the first time.

I was mouthing off in class one time about how much I hated the school newspaper, when Michelle turned to me and nearly with tears in her eyes said, "Do you really think that, David?" Of course, I was just making noise, and didn’t really mean it, but nothing I could do could fix that moment. I had jammed my foot far into my mouth, and I was not able to back-pedal smoothly. 20 years later, and I can still remember this exact moment. I didn’t need 15 slightly different examples with the answers in the back of the book to remember this moment, and the lesson that came with it.

How can we make more of the learning in school have the same kind of stickiness? Do I remember these lessons because they hurt, or because I had a strong emotion attached to that moment?

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3 Comments

  • It’s been a while since I read it, so please forgive me if I have some of the details wrong here…

    In Emotional Intelligence, there is a passage about your emotional memory. The book uses an example of when you try to pass a car on a two-lane road at night and almost get hit head-on by a truck. Your amygdala creates a special, “emotionally charged” version of that memory to protect you in the future. So the next time you attempt something like it, you’ll be jolted back to that moment and perhaps avoid doing something that can get you killed.

    Similarly, other experiences that carry with them great emotions can get recorded in your memory in the same “emotionally charged” fashion. Basically, it’s your brain telling you not to flake out on learning something this time, because next time it could get you in real trouble.

    I’m not sure we want to make each and every mistake traumatic for students (I’m sure that’s not what you’re suggesting!), but it would be interesting to try and find a way to get the amygdala involved a little more in the education process so that kids might engage their emotional memories a bit more.

    By the way, I see you’ve added a comment notification system! Awesome! Thanks for taking the time.

  • David Wees wrote:

     Thank you for your observations. Also, I added a notifications system, but please let me know if you get any spam emails through it. I’m hopeful that I’ve set it up in such a way that spam will be minimal to people’s emails (although spam that gets caught by my filters is plentiful).

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