Friday, July 30, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

There’s something profoundly ironic about the difficulty professional educators have in accepting the power of an individual’s capacity and desire to learn.  I’ve even been in a seminar recently where the presenter joyfully produced a photo of a sign over a school gate:

“If you’re not here, you can’t learn!”
The teachers in the room loved it.

So, what's wrong with that?
What's wrong with that is that the real question is not if we’re learning, or where we're learning, it’s what we’re learning.

Would we accept a doctor telling us that if we aren’t in hospital we can’t heal, or a lawyer telling us that if we don’t have a defence attorney we’re not safe? I don’t think so.

[Thought: Perhaps everybody who works in education (or wants to) should be handcuffed to a 14-year-old for a fortnight or so to remind them what we're really there for, how hard and complicated life is, and how much our kids need us to help them find the things that will make their lives feel like a gift not a penance...]

Learning is what children do.
They can't help it. They sure as heck don't need us to tell them how to do it. Babies and young children are natural learners, natural scientists. They spend their lives conducting experiments - testing the world around them in order to understand it. Everybody’s first five years are shaped by a series of "scientific" experiments - an ongoing series of situations where you interact with the world around you in a purposeful way in order to refine or expand your understanding of it…Taste… Observation… Manipulation... Interaction…. An ongoing and vitally important process of trial and error. It may lack the level of verbal sophistication you would use now, but it's a robust scientific process none the less.

New Zealand's ECE curriculum by the way is a marvellous document - well worth a look as a model of how a genuinely student-centred curriculum can be created that works at a national level. Our school sector is moving towards a similar model, with the "revised" New Zealand Curriculum. There's a separate and parallel document for Māori medium education (Māori are New Zealand's first people).

If you want to understand learning - watch a kid 
 Back in Playcentre, my working definition of a scientist was "someone who finds out the answers to questions"… Now, doesn't that sound suspiciously like a definition of learning? [And I do mean “me learning”, not “you trying to teach me” which is something different]

So it's no wonder that children love science. It has been their constant companion since before they could talk.

And then they go to school, and we tell them that they can’t learn unless we let them...

So, let me ask you again - what's WRONG with this picture?