TLC Book Tour – The Vigorous Mind by Ingrid Cummings

Over the course of my twenty year teaching career, I was subject to many a learning trend. Never did a trend arrive unaccompanied by innumerable in-service opportunities. Each sparkly new theory had a guru who had at the very least mounds of handouts to share and at the very worst – a book to sell. One of the middle schools I worked at even based its reason for existing on a teaching model called Multiple Intelligences. And yes, we all had quite the chuckle over the misuse of the plural, even those of us who weren’t English teachers. Well, maybe not the P.E. teachers, but everyone else anyway.

The idea behind M.I was a simple one. In fact I’d seen it a couple of times before by this point in my career albeit under other aliases. M.I. asserted that everyone had a learning style or preference, but that it was possible to train children to effectively use learning styles they were weak in by building lessons that incorporated multiple ways of learning.

The logical leap from this was, of course, team teaching and cross curriculum lessons. For example, as a Language Arts teacher I built the weekly spelling list around vocabulary the students needed for science, math, and geography. When I could get them to cooperate, I even used word lists from the P.E. department and the art specials. But even before this I had built units in conjunction with the science teachers because they were the most open to the idea that we could double team the kids and coerce them into making connections and finding the relationships between our subject areas.

So what does this have to do with Ingrid Cummings book, The Vigorous Mind?

Ms. Cummings believes in cross-training our minds. Through cultivating an attitude that learning is a life long process and actively seeking out new experiences and areas of interest to develop through reading, active study or simply puttering about, we can go happily into the good night years rather than trudging towards our graves like the good little automatons that our consumer driven society would prefer us to be.

And I won’t argue against her idea or her theories. She is spot on when she talks about the benefits that cultivating numerous and diverse interests throughout the course of one’s life. It’s beneficial to be a generalist or Renaissance person which is another way of saying, “Jack of many trades.”

The book was a slow read and a repetitious one. She followed the teaching model that all really good teachers use which is to continually make the main points of the lesson over and over again using different examples. My brighter students were always pointing out to me that I repeated myself, but my average and slower learners never noticed because of the human tendency to not listen. In book form, however, that isn’t the case. At least I don’t think it is.

I skipped over the prologue. Fiction writers are instructed to never, ever, ever start with a prologue. Of course, all writing rules are subject to interpretation, but there is a good reason why a writer shouldn’t have a lengthy prologue – at some point the writer will start writing the actual book and not just be leading into it.

The first chapter was like a continuation of the prologue and the second chapter threatened to repeat the first, so I skipped it and read the third, which is where the book should have started.

After that I headed into part two of the book, which is divided into three parts. In part two there are seven imperatives for a generalist or life long learner. And again, part two was way too long. I ended up reading each imperative and a paragraph or two following it before heading into part three.

Part three is probably the best part of the book and by this time I was pretty sure that The Vigorous Mind was a text book or reference that in conjunction with a seminar would be a very good buy. Easier by far than taking notes.

Cummings has a plan for helping those who would like to mentally cross train.It’s based on a Japanese philosophy known as Kaizen. Basically it is not much different from the idea that one must devote a specific amount of time to a new activity every day – like a new exercise program for example – and commit to doing this until it becomes an ingrained habit or new skill set.

She provides exercises at the end of chapters or sections to help a person select new areas of interest to pursue that will enhance existing interests, skills or careers even.

I wanted to like this book. There is nothing about the idea or the methods that I don’t agree with. I whole-heartedly believe in life-long learning. I think that intellectual curiosity and the pursuit of new skills and pushing oneself into areas of expertise that are challenging and fun will do nothing but good for anyone who decides to go there.

But there were so many examples of so many people continually thrown at me throughout the reading that after a while I couldn’t sort one from another, and the celebrity examples made the whole thing seem Oprah trendy. I much preferred when the author used real people whose faces you wouldn’t see when you were checking out your groceries. And honestly, the public school teacher in me was offended by the continual put-downs against the education system. It seems to me that people, who are not actual classroom teachers of real children, too quickly dismiss what is really going on in classrooms today. There is far more good than bad and the critics seem to be basing their dim views on what they remember about their own education rather than on today’s schools. Education is in a state of evolution to be sure, but it’s not as dire as it’s being painted and failure has far more to do with socio-economic issues than on the quality or even the quantity of what exists right now.

New writers are told to “show” more than they “tell” their readers. There is a lot more telling than showing here and for me, it smothered the author’s main intent, but a reader who is able to use the index in conjunction with the exercises (which are valid) and not need to read from start to finish might be able to come up with a cross-training regime for his/her self.

Ingrid Cummings TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, January 20th: A Garden Carried In My Pocket

Wednesday, January 21st: 8Asians

Monday, January 26th: A Novel Menagerie

Tuesday, January 27th: Anniegirl1138

Wednesday, January 28th: She is Too Fond of Books

Thursday, January 29th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement

Friday, January 30th: So Not Zen

Monday, February 2nd: Simply Forties

Tuesday, February 3rd: life@work

Wednesday, Februarty 4th:

4 thoughts on “TLC Book Tour – The Vigorous Mind by Ingrid Cummings

  1. Oh, I posted my review of this today – I really liked it! Maybe because I was already sold on the idea of “cross-training” before I picked it up … now I have the vocabulary and reasoning to back up my generalist approach to life.

    I can see that the references to the public schools’ teaching methods rankled; I just glossed over those because I was focusing on the how-and-why-we-can-expand sections rather than what-other-people-are-doing-wrong parts. You’re right … it’s not good to boost oneself up by stepping on other people!

    And, yes, I agree there was repetition; but in the spirit of a how-to I overlooked this. Maybe Cummings was using a subliminal form of Kaizen to instill the slow but steady mantra 🙂

  2. love the concept – but suspect i couldn’t even get through the table of contents. my learning style is trial/error/abject failure followed by THEN reading the manual!

    you were a devoted teacher – i wonder if you miss it sometimes?

    I miss the old days when I was really a teacher as opposed to now when people with no practical knowledge of teaching/education (or no knowledge period) are allowed to impose their whims on the process.

    It’s one of the things about this book that rankled. The disrespect. The assumption that teachers don’t know about “cross-training” and don’t use brain research in the development of curriculum and application.

    I am still tired of the way society looks down on teachers and assumes that its ills are the result of poor teachers rather than bad parenting and a culture that is rotting the minds, bodies and souls of its young.

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