The Mind: Building Blocks or Legos?

Posted: February 27th, 2013 in Public. No Comments

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Have you ever had a moment when you saw something familiar but in an all new perspective? I experienced something like that last night while reading. I suddenly saw someone very close to me in a new way. Someone I knew my entire life, yet I failed to see them clearly until that moment in which a book inspired me to change my perspective.

I was contemplating the epiphany and had an additional thought: our minds and thoughts are not like building blocks but more like legos.

My wife and I have two young children in our home and we all love to play with toys like wooden blocks and legos. It’s a joy to watch our children take things like simple blocks and come up with something new and interesting every time they play. My son played with the same simple building block set literally for years and it never ceased to amaze me some of the things he came up with using simple blocks arranged and built on top of each other.

Eventually my son’s interest in blocks faded. He could always build his objects bigger with more pieces, but eventually the patterns and way he laid out the pieces became limited and uninteresting.

Last year I introduced my son to LEGO®, which of course he absolutely fell instantly in love with. The thing about legos that are different than wooden blocks are that you can never truly have enough pieces and no piece ever becomes obsolete. In addition to the basic building blocks, LEGO® also creates specific utility pieces that allow you to connect and use other pieces in new and interesting ways. Every piece adds value and changes the ways all other previous pieces can be used.

I find that imagery to be a powerful model for how learning changes our thinking, even who we are.

Formal education in the United States is built on a linear or building model. Creating a model citizen is not unlike building a home or product. By design it aims to dig out a foundation and builds the structure piece-by-piece. Each piece of knowledge is laid on top of the last or attached in some way in attempt to build some beautiful final product. As if the mind were like building blocks.

But that’s not how the mind works. When you add more blocks to a wooden building block set you get the potential for bigger creations, when you add new pieces to a LEGO® collection, the additions can dramatically change how every other piece is used to come with an entirely new set of creations.

I think the sooner we recognize and leverage that idea in education and learning, the more creativity and joy we will see in the process and the more empowered we will be because of it. Not to view the mind as an empty bucket to be filled with blocks, but an assortment of pieces that can be arranged and added to in new and interesting ways.

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