This post has been originally posted at the Cooperative Catalyst. I am reposting here — with minor edits — to broaden the audience and hopefully get additional feedback.
After reading Gatto, I make a distinction between education and schooling. Schooling is, at least in its current form, a way to govern education, but more often than not, education can happen without it — as millions of home-schoolers in US and many other countries and numerous important people through history that didn’t go to school can attest to!
What I came to realize lately is that despite the fact that we mostly think of education and learning to be similar, they’re different in two important aspects. Education and learning are usually described as the acts of acquiring knowledge, behaviors or skills — when defining education, Wikipedia refers to these as formative effects on the mind, character and physical abilities, but those are just different technical definitions of the same things.
Though learning and education sound like synonyms, learning goes beyond and includes the act of acquiring (or changing) values and preferences. On top of that, learning may involve synthesizing different types of information. I think these two aspects of learning are greatly important to anyone looking at reforming the current schooling system. Moreover, they should be considered by all parents and teachers when thinking about education choices and methods.
I’ll try to explain this with three stories, but before that, let me give you some thoughts to keep in mind when reading the stories.
This post was originally posted at the Cooperative Catalyst.
As I was taking my younger daughter to her daycare this morning, making sure I don’t forget her favorite stuffed toy — Piglet, of Winnie the Pooh fame ;-) — a sequence of pictures flashed in front of my eyes:
The warmth of our home, causing my brain to recall familiar smells from the baking in the oven and family voices mixing in a symphony of noise my ears could enjoy forever, making me forgetting all about the milk my daughters spilled this morning on the floor as they were chasing around the dining table.
The inviting playfulness of my daughter’s daycare, with the chaos of toys, crayons, drawings providing happy food to my soul, despite the fact I am late for a meeting and getting to the exit door seems to take forever as me and a handful of other parents try to avoid stepping on the little fingers that seem to be in almost every square foot of the floor.
The messy desk at work is full of family photos, yellowing old paper with some uplifting message I must have printed ages ago that says I should chin up to challenges , my daughters’ pile of drawings and crafts mixed up with project plans and architecture diagrams — all bringing comfort to my emotional brain, even though I feel stressed as I can’t find that report I printed for the customer meeting in 5 minutes.
Suddenly, my older daughter’s tidy classroom full of organized boxes, lined up tables and chairs, sorted books, etc. looked strangely uncomfortable. As I was puzzling why I didn’t noticed that 30 minutes ago as I was dropping her off first before driving to the daycare, I realized I couldn’t see any object in the classroom that had emotional value for me or that I could connect with any of the other three pictures that popped in my brain just before.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that I don’t spend much time in the kitchen — though the time I do, when making the few things I know how to, feels quite good! Therefore, I was excited the other day to try and bake apple strudels after my wife tried out an easy recipe with a pre-made dough one could buy from a supermarket – I know, we’re cheating, but the strudels taste great nonetheless and we all enjoy them in the family so much that not one survives for more than few hours, no matter the quantity. ;-)
My older daughter (6) decided that letting daddy do it alone was not fair so she set out to help me — or rather do almost everything herself. I am all for letting the kids learn through experience, but when she reached for the knife to cut the dough I hesitated for reasons I can’t explain — after all, she’s been using a knife for long time and the worst thing that could happen was that the dough pieces would not turn out perfect squares (big deal!).
Anyway, I sobered up and let her cut the dough and do as much of the work as she wanted, standing happily on her side and marveling at the happiness at her face as she was doing it! Of course, being six, her attention got diverted by a new cartoon that started playing on the computer she left running when joining me in the kitchen so after about 5 minutes I was left alone to finish the preparation and do the baking. Still, in those 5 minutes I felt I helped her learn something, though I wouldn’t call myself a “teacher” for what I did!
“Had I the heavens embroidered cloths, Enwrought with gold and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet; But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” ~ W.B. Yeats
“And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson
Recently, I ran into a blog post from a middle school teacher who asked his students to explain how would they reform school. A noble idea to be commended! — you might say. That’s what I thought too, but then I saw the answers, including:
- Better cafeteria food with real ingredients
- A monthly educational field trip
- iPads, netbooks or laptops in classes
- More freedom in terms of leaving to use the restroom, eating a snack or getting a drink of water, etc.
Something feels wrong! Of course, there were some great ideas in the complete list — like more electives, feedback instead of marks, and community service once a week — but somehow the list suggested that all of the problems with the current education system can be resolved if we buy few iPads, stop making kids suffer with a full bladder till the end of the lesson and throw in a field trip or two?!
Looking at the list made me remember a lesson I learned in my career in software development – and somehow always forget and need to re-learn: Users (don’t!) always know what is best for them! Sometimes it takes someone from outside to notice what they’re doing wrong and show them alternative ways.
Learning to unlearn is the highest form of learning. ~ Buddhist proverb
At its very core, education is an innate expression of curiosity; a longing to understand and be part of the world; a manifestation of purpose and passion that every person carries within them. ~ Carey Elizabeth Smith, Co-Director of the Body Therapy Institute*
I’ve been troubled lately with the question “How do we learn?” I don’t mean specifically how kids learn in school, or how adults learn at a new job position… I’m rather curious how do we learn anything in general!