Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It Is True, the Key to Learning Is Held by the Learner

Here is a wonderful post in which a blogger named Willa quotes different authors who lived at all different times, who were all saying the same basic thing.

The Teacher Is Like A Midwife

One quote is from Charlotte Mason, who influences the home education philosophy of both Willa and I. These quotes are also very much in line with the unschooling philosophy if you read them carefully.

In my role as a Cub Scout Leader and being the observer of other formal classes taught to children, I know that teachers can have a goal, work hard on their lesson planning, present the information to the children (even in a stimulating and exciting way) yet the actual learning and the retention of the information lies in the mind of the child. No one, not a teacher, not a parent, nor any other external being can force a child to learn something or to master a skill. It is all up to the child. Period.

I am not saying that a teacher or a parent in charge of their own child’s education should neglect the child or not teach them things. I am not saying that goals should not exist. I am not saying that a child should not take a class nor do a lesson in a certain topic area. I am not saying to ‘do nothing’. The adults in the child’s life should provide a meaningful and enriching home atmosphere and access to good experiences and exposure to a variety of things, at least some of which should be of high quality (music, art, literature). But how the child reacts to it, what they understand, what they retain over the long term, and how it impresses itself on their minds is all within the control of the child (whether we as a society like to admit this or not).

I think school teachers on the one hand take too much credit for what children know when the students are learning, yet on the other hand the ones I know very easily can say the learner holds the key, when the learner is not learning. How convenient. Actually maybe both things are true. Children who are forced to go to school are at the mercy of the teacher and to what extend the teacher (or ‘the system’) does ‘well’ or provides an interesting or effective experience for the children does very much affect what the schooled child will take away from their schooling experience. Yet it is very true that even with the best teaching and the best materials, if the student doesn’t pay attention, do the work, or whatever else they need to do, then they will not learn, and how could you blame the teacher for that situation?

Schools and governments who try to force learning, at the very core, do have a child’s best interest in mind (I still try to tell myself) but the reality is that no matter what is done in the name of giving a child an education, it is the child who is in control. This is why even when different books (reading textbooks vs. ‘real’ children’s books), different curriculum (math vs. new math vs. new-new math), different teachers, different ‘learning experiences’ (individual vs. group activity learning), different teaching methods (being lectured vs. ‘self-discovery’), newer school buildings, more technology (computers in the classroom), and different student to teacher ratios (more and more teacher’s aides too) really don’t impact learning. Oh, and revised educational goals and standards, NCLB and standardized tests to measure learning don’t matter much either.

This is also why numerous attempts at ‘education reform’ have failed. A book I own from 1905 talks of the bad state of affairs in American public schools and how education reform is needed. I had not realized that things were so bad back then; I had assumed those were the ‘good old days’ with high-quality schools. Also I had thought my own public school education was decent but learned that in the 1960s and 1970s there was a huge education reform movement afoot brought on by teachers and school administrators themselves! I read in numerous books how what I had experienced was judged by some to be atrocious and in need of a huge overhaul!

All attempts at coerced learning will not result in all children learning. Period. Parents and taxpayers would like children to absorb 100% of what they learn in school but that is unrealistic. Getting an “A” in every subject, being an expert in every area is unrealistic (yet children are pushed toward that goal). Just as factory owners want as close to 100% efficiency as possible, adults in society want as close to 100% learning as a return on investment toward public schooling. The parents want their children to be smart, educated, and on a path toward success and financial independence when the child is an adult. Taxpayers want the highest and best education for the least amount of money. Teachers want the highest salary and best benefits for the least amount of work. In Connecticut the union allows them to work only five periods a day and that is probably why in my town the recess is overseen by two teacher’s aides. When I was in school our teachers, all of our teachers, watched over us while at recess. Public education is big business and sadly some of what goes on is directed not toward getting the learner to learn but about managing and growing the business that we call “public schooling”.

Children’s minds cannot be controlled and learning cannot be forced (coerced). It just boils down to that fact.

And I’m opting out of that system for my children. I want my children to learn and to experience life as well as to have time to just ‘be a kid’. So I choose to homeschool my children. I don’t want them to be part of a big machine, to be a cog in the wheel of the tangled mess that our public schools are in. And in our homeschool I teach and the children teach themselves and they learn and grow. Our family life encompasses a wide variety of experiences and that is the best I can do, and so far, it is working well for us.

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Julia V. said...

Great post. Simply said, but right to the core.

Willa said...

Thanks for linking to my post. Since one of my children gets therapy from the schools I too notice that mindset that teaching = learning. Most of the teachers I know personally have excellent intentions and are talented people, but just don't usually think in terms of learning as something that happens inside the child's own brain and personality. I think Charlotte Mason said something about too much teaching actually having the opposite effect intended. My teens often notice that the kids their age that go to school don't often have very much mental energy left over and you can't blame them, after six hours listening in class and then assigned homework after that.