Monday, July 28, 2008

A Little Innovation... Maybe

A few years ago I read a book that really inspired me with respect to possible research avenues I could pursue in education. It's called "Religion Explained" by Pascal Boyer. He creates an interesting argument for the neurological basis of religion. A central feature of his argument is that religious myths and ideas are memes that have some tenacity as cultural elements being passed on within a society because they have features that make them especially memorable by creating a form of cognitive dissonance. It occurred to me that there may be a lot to learn about effective education models by exploring the indoctrination practices of religions. One type of religion that particularly interests me is the mystery cult, which indoctrinates devotees through a system of religious rituals and dramatizations. So... for some time I've been thinking about and planning a mystery to induct my students into that would teach them something about biology.

Originally I got two students to learn the ritual who would then help me the next day to induct the rest of them. There was some skepticism and resistance at first. Partially because my co-conspirators anticipated a negative or destructive response to the process. This was of course a major concern I'd been carrying around all along. However, after rehearsing the ritual a couple of times and then showing them meanings of all the symbols, some of this concern was resolved and success seemed more likely.

Anyway, the next day we tried it out and in the effort to give each student a chance to be a direct participant, we tried to go through it a few times. At first it worked out but as they became too comfortable with it, one particular student decided to deliberately mess it up during his turn at participating. The larger group also served to provide lots of opportunities for mutual distraction, particularly during the phase where the symbols were explained.

Anyway, it didn't turn out perfectly. However, it did turn out well enough that I think I need to explore this idea a little bit more and try to refine it.

If you are interested you can link to a pdf of the full text of the ritual here: The Ritual or if that doesn't work you can link to it through here: My Downloads Page