Friday, February 08, 2013

Teaching intuition

fitting hinges... secrets described below...
If you were to ask any American educator, they would likely deny the possibility of teaching intuition. It is hard enough to define. What is it? How can one know something without being directly taught? How can one test for it? Pestalozzi regarded intuition as being the primary objective of education, and what he said in the early 1800s of the failure of European education could be applied to the modern American educational system of today:
"Europe with its system of popular teaching has fallen into error or rather it has lost its way. On one side it has risen to an immense height in the sciences and arts on the other it has lost the whole foundation of natural culture for the bulk of the people. No part of the world has risen so high, no part has sunk so low. Our continent resembles the great image mentioned by the prophet; its golden head touches the clouds but popular instruction which should bear this head is like the feet of clay.
"In Europe the culture of the people has become vain babbling as fatal to faith as to true knowledge; an instruction of mere words which contains a little dreaming and show which cannot give us the calm wisdom of faith, and love, but on the contrary leads to unbelief and superstition to selfishness and hardness. It is indisputable that the mania for words and books which has absorbed everything in our popular instruction has been carried so far that we cannot possibly remain long as we are.
"Everything convinces me that the only means of preserving us from remaining at a civil moral and religious dead level is to abandon the superficiality, the piecemeal, and infatuation of our popular instruction and to recognize intuition as the true foundation of knowledge."
Leonard J. Waks wrote an interesting article on the subject, Intuition, Teaching and Learning without Thinking. which begins as follows:
Albert Einstein once said that intuition is “the only truly valuable thing.” He explained that in science only “intuition resting on sympathetic understanding of experience” can apprehend the elementary laws of the universe. Even in everyday activities, however, he felt that people should emulate the instincts of animals by being “more intuitive – they should not be too conscious of what they are doing while they are doing it.” “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, while the rational mind is only its faithful servant,” he cautioned, “but our society honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
In about 1964 I was in K. Fred Curtis's biology class at Benson High School in Omaha, Nebraska and along with my classmates was administered a standardized test mid-year to determine how much I had learned in biology. The following week, Mr. Curtis announced in amazement that one of his students (who he later announced as me) had achieved the remarkable feat of being in the 99th percentile. K. Fred was sincerely amazed and pleased with himself at my score. If asked, I could have assured him that there was nothing on the test we had learned in Biology class that year. My answer for each question was selected based on outside-the-classroom experience. One can often intuit the "correct" answer to questions if one has actual experience upon which to guess.

And so here we come to the crux of the matter. You can call it the "provenance of experience" if you like. Just as one looks for evidence that is untainted in its handling or mishandling, or upon the history of artifacts as ascertaining the clear lineage of their origins, provenance of experience assures that what we know or can intuit is built upon a secure foundation. If you want to teach for the development of intuition you follow the theory of Educational Sloyd, a system of woodworking education that should by all rights serve as the model for the rest of education. Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. I wrote more on this here. It is not enough to know discrete bits of information. Knowledge and intuition hand-in-hand comprise a framework of interconnected experiences that lead one on a heuristic voyage of exploration, self-motivated, with or without engagement in formalized education.

In regard to yesterday's post on the Ikea effect, Out of the Box, are you one of those who choose to read instructions? Or are are you one who builds straight out of the box and has washers left over? For some, to assemble by the seat of the pants, arriving at less than perfect results is ever more satisfying, than being slave to the instructions. That too, has to do with intuition.

On still another matter, John Stewart interviewed education "reformer"Michelle Rhee on Monday night and told her that there has been no real innovation in education since John Dewey, who had in fact been influenced by Otto Salomon and Educational Sloyd.

The photo above shows the secret to fool-proof installation of hinges. First the hinge mortises must be accurately routed to house the hinge on three sides. Then a drilling guide is used to make absolutely certain that the screws go in exact position. I use a finishing nail as a drill bit. The nail works great and is well sized for the tiny brass screws. The screws should be lubricated to reduce friction as they enter the wood.

Make, fix and create... even if it first requires a trip to Ikea to do so.


  1. Well, I am an American educator and have been successfully teaching people to understand and use their intuition for the past 7 years or so.

    Some of which you mention is learning style, rather than use of any intuition. Intuition does not use any clues from the physical world, nor does it derive from any cognitive reasoning. As Einstein described, it simply is there.

  2. Susan, Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. If you, unlike most American educators are actively teaching students to use and understand their intuition, please let us know where we can learn more.

    I don't think I would characterize intuition as not taking any clues from the physical world, but rather that it's clues are not obvious, and they need not be rational in the strictest sense.

    In the quote from this post, Einstein said, "only intuition resting on a sympathetic understanding of experience" could understand the laws of the universe. I would not interpret that as not using "any clues from the physical world" or as not derived from any cognitive reasoning.

    I'm not sure where I was talking about learning style. Otto Salomon laid out learning theory about 100 years before Jerome Bruner came up with the term "scaffolding" to describe the same thing. But in any case, share some more with us so I can get a better grasp of your method.

  3. I will confess to being one of those people who reads the instructions, if only once.

    As far as intuition, it has gotten me "un-lost" and has helped me complete projects of various kinds. And it always involved clues from the physical world.