Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Example of School Teaching Gone Wrong

There sometimes comes a time when a school teacher will take a normal childhood play activity and try to turn it into and educational experience. At first the idea is, hey, let's take a toy they like and use it in a lesson and maybe then they will have fun while playing with it but we can try to have some education that we want them to know to be learned in the process.

The extent to which this should be done and can be done varies. In this case the school banned the children from playing with LEGOs in order to teach a certain lesson.

At some point the teacher can morph it into something very much different than the original, innocent, normal free-form play that the children did and instead, make it a forced, mandatory lesson which is so far from the original reason for playing with that toy, that a child might even come to hate the original toy. Can you imagine that the fun would be taken out of that play at that point? I can. Some or most children can. But some teachers seem unable to fathom this. Or perhaps they are so excited about teaching some concept or content that it gets to a point where they don't care if the kids are having fun anymore, it is more about getting that message across or that concept taught, period.

If you don't think this does happen or can happen, here is a real life example for you, from a current story in the media. This example is from an after-school program which was overseen by teachers who refer to their situation as an “early education classroom” called Hilltop Children’s Center, with eight year old’s in a wealthy suburb of Seattle, Washington. This school is inspired by the pedagogy of the Reggio Emilia schools of Italy.

While at first the LEGO play was free play in nature, after some children accidentally broke the LEGO town, this was stated:

When the children discovered the decimated Legotown, they reacted with shock and grief. Children moaned and fell to their knees to inspect the damage; many were near tears. The builders were devastated, and the other children were deeply sympathetic.

Note that the reaction of these children is normal and typical with any big creation that many hours of work was put into.

At first the LEGOs were banned. Then later, rules were put in place which have much bigger real life lessons behind them. The goal is to teach the children these more important lessons. So the LEGOs are no longer just for free play, they have lots of rules around their use.

I take exception to the lessons that were being taught. While some were good in general, others smacked of communism and socialism to me.

I'd like to tell these teachers to go shove their lesson plan and to just let the kids play with the LEGOs any way they choose.

I also have been seeing some negative ramifications of over-involvement with adults onto children's social experiences lately. I would like kids to be able to fend for themselves in a safe environment with minimal adult oversight. An example of this would be normal child interaction during free play with LEGOs. Parents and teachers should step back and let the free play happen. That includes negotiation of who gets to use what piece, what piece is best for what task, who can use the LEGO plane and what businesses should appear in their LEGO town.

Here is the article on the Rethinking Schools website which was authored by the two teachers in praise of their own actions with the LEGOs and fully explaining their aims and goals about the use of LEGOs in their classroom.

Here is the long article dated Winter 2006, on the Rethinking Schools Online website, so you can read the lessons they were teaching, how they restricted the LEGO play and more. I will spare you long quotes from the article, you really should go read it yourself to believe it.

Hat Tip: This topic was brought to my attention today by my husband who read this article dated today, from an op-ed piece by John Miller, published on the National Review website. As I was writing this blog entry, FoxNews on television reported the story as well.

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