For most of the 17th and 18th centuries, kids who went to school sat in rows, and were force fed lines of latin. It was not because they wanted to speak latin; their desires were not important. Nobody really thought the kids would ever need much latin in their lives either, but still, the drills went on and on. Why? Because the general consensus of educators was that these drills were a form of mental “exercise”, like cognitive weightlifting. It was thought that children were born with weaker faculties than adults, and drills and memorization were necessary to strengthen these faculties. But thanks to thought leaders like Locke, Rousseau and Dewey, this traditional learning evolved into 20th century learner-centered experiential, progressive learning. Good teachers began to understand that kids learn more if the content is relevant and meaningful, and when given opportunities to learn by doing.
Fast forward to the 21st century and what do we find? People spending $299.95 at Lumosity to improve their cognitive faculties by doing mental drills, believing these cognitive exercises will improve their cognitive abilities at work, and combat their cognitive malaise of traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and Alzheimer’s disease. Manipulative advertising backed by flaccid science has convinced the public that mental weightlifting can strengthen a fantom cognitive muscle, like doing curls for stronger biceps. Thankfully, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on companies who capitalize on people’s fears of dementia, forcing companies like Lumosity to pay up two million dollars for false advertising. However, “Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. After a thorough investigation of Lumosity’s faulty research, the FTC reported that “basically, we think the most that they have shown is that with enough practice you get better on these games, or on similar cognitive tasks… There’s no evidence that training transfers to any real world setting.”