I continue to learn from my newest teacher as I respond to her wonderfully provocative post. I am hoping if I give her an apple she will let me erase the boards. 🙂
I also agree that being defenseless is not the goal. I see it as rather as a side effect of our intelligence. Evolutionarily we are attracted to “defenseless”, which is why we go gooey over babies in general for many animal species. Part of our success as a species also has to do with our longevity in age. Having multiple generations alive at one time to possible pass on knowledge indicates how important learning is to us. A defenseless baby is sort of a captive audience as well. Even once it can walk it is still very dependent on adults and this gives it more time to learn from them in addition to the learning it does through during it’s own individual exploration.
Ultimately you hit on a very important point and that is the value of learning in of itself. I think there are a number of people who are fascinated by this topic and who do very good research on this, but ultimately little of it is implemented. There are a lot of reasons for this and sadly many of them have to do with the values of the society. In societies where education is valued, they are much more likely to spend resources on best teaching practices. Ultimately many of the best teaching practices require smaller class sizes so the teacher has the opportunity for more individualized instruction. Classrooms also require ample resources so there is equity amongst schools in terms of equipment and teacher quality. Finally when schools do not have to compete for funding they can be much more collaborative when it comes to sharing best practices instead of being competitive. Often in the U.S. it is not a benefit to share these best practices with other schools because it means less funding for your school. Here in the U.S education is not valued. Class sizes increase, schools constantly compete for an ever shrinking amount of funding, and there is great disparity amongst schools in terms of resources and quality of teacher. Investigation and creativity are sacrificed for standardized testing and rote memorization.
In my experience, it seems like, part of the reasons many students find school boring is that it simply isn’t stimulating to them intellectually because young minds are so adept at learning that the rate in which information is taught simply doesn’t challenge them. One of the great things that Dr. Mitra’s hole in the wall experiment shows is that young children can learn at incredible rates when given the opportunity. Children really, really want to learn. But we dole out the information incrementally and slowly, and Dr. Mitra demonstrates that this is not necessary. In the U.S. parents often rail against students having hours of a homework at night, even though very often those assignments allow students to do more investigative type assignments outside of the classroom. With class sizes increasing, teachers often hold back on assignments too as their workload increases dramatically or they fear they will not be able to give adequate feedback to the students for improvement.
The type of learning that I connect with most is Mastery Learning. I think if we accepted that children can learn at an accelerated rate and set the bar high for children from the very start of their education, then as we incorporate Dr. Mitra’s exploratory learning concept in with quality teachers who can work with students under this format we’d have the start of something great. I agree though that learning in of itself is not necessarily something we should treat as static and yet it very much has in a lot of ways. We should be constantly evaluating our strategies and adapting to knew technologies and the greater understanding we have gained about how we learn. In an ideal world I would love to see everyone learn a second language so that by the time they are about 12 they are fluent in another language.
So I shall end as I began in a word about evolution. From an evolutionary perspective we only really need to learn enough to survive. Reading, writing, math and science, these are all things that for 99% of our evolution we did not need to do. We are meant to learn though. And that wonderful emergent property of consciousness makes us aware of how much we love it, and I think this is evidenced by civilization itself. Civilization is not required for the survival of our species, but we have it. It gives us the time to ponder, question, and learn about things we never could before. The saddest thing I see as an educator here in the U.S. is that as a society with so much access to information and time enough to learn and absorb it, learning and education is rejected instead of valued. Maybe it’s because education is run as a business model instead of a learning model. Those who would make educational policy are rarely teachers and while they say they care about the outcomes rarely listen to teachers and only care about the bottom line in terms of dollars and cents.