Saturday, July 31, 2010

Labels vs. Concepts

One of the problems in American Education, I've come to believe, is that people confuse labels and concepts--and, by extension, definitions with conceptual information.

Mistaking labels for concepts, they ssume that a child who doesn't know what a "number sentence" is doesn't understand the concept of number sentences, or that an autistic child who doesn't know what "because" means doesn't understand cause and effect.

Or they teach biological terms like "endoplasmic reticulum" as definitions to memorize ("the part of the cell that assembles proteins and sends them to the nuclear membrane") rather than as biological entities (an organ within the cell that uses its structure in particular ways to cooperate in particular ways with the rest of the cell).

Then, mistaking concepts for labels, they avoid having children memorize detailed, concept-rich networks of facts like those of the Philogenic Tree or the Periodic Table. ("Mere facts"--right up there with "mere calculation").

In short, concept/label confusion leads people to understimated children (especially children who are gifted and/or autistic) whose conceptual understanding exceeds their vocabulary, to teach rote meanings stripped of underlying concepts, and to avoid teaching concepts whose grounding in detailed factual information causes people to mistake them for mere labels.


Hainish said...

This post is full of goodness and win. Especially this part:

"concept/label confusion leads people to underestimate children whose conceptual understanding exceeds their vocabulary"

As one such (former) child, I am glad someone has put a label to this concept.

Anonymous said...

dickens nailed this somewhere
near the beginning of _hard_times_
where the teacher puts down
the one kid in the class who
actually knows something about
horses for not knowing the
*technical terms* about horses.

i reread this recently.
the BBC video has it too.