Discussion: Innocence and Knowledge

Unexpectedly, I am finding one of the hardest parts as a parent is to decide when should I tell the truth about the realities of the world.  I see the innocence and joy in life my son has, and it breaks my heart to tell him anything that speaks to the suffering that takes in this world.  There is a part of me that wants to preserve that innocence for as long as possible, and yet there is also part of me that wants to prepare him so he has the courage to face it.  I think overall I lean towards the former, because who am I to destroy such unadulterated joy in life?  Pain will find us all, and when it happens I’ll be there.  There is no rush.

But last night I started thinking, why can’t we all be more childlike and experience that joy?  What really causes us to “lose our innocence”.  I don’t think it’s death in of itself.  I don’t think sadness in of itself is what prevents us from experiencing a lot more bliss.

In trying to answer this question about loss of innocence, I started to think what a strange story the Garden of Eden is in Genesis.  The fact that eating from the tree of knowledge is what is referred to as the “fall of man”, the end of paradise (and innocence).  I don’t think knowledge as a whole is a problem.  For the most part knowledge makes me less fearful, less confused, and more likely to course correct in my life.  Life of course can’t be 100% bliss, but I imagined a world in which the only sadness we would experience would be when someone  we love died of natural causes, or natural disasters.  We might experience pain through breakups or moving away from home.  It is a dynamic world and there is an impermanence to all things.  I think such a world would be a more blissful experience, much more child-like.  What really causes us to lose our innocence is finding out the horrible things we do to each other.  That is a weight to bear that changes you forever; for which there is no going back.  If any biblical story in Genesis is going to represent the fall of man it should be when Cain kills his brother in anger (albeit anger due to God’s dissatisfaction with a vegan meal).  Anyway, I don’t really intend to get into a discussion about the Bible, only that as a parent the story struck as very odd even if I believed it was true.

For as long as I’ve been aware of the larger world that we live in, the only things that really break my spirit are is the harm that humans cause each other.  I’ve never sobbed and felt the world was a horrible place because someone died in a flood or of a heart attack.  I am curious as to what other people think about innocence and the loss thereof.  Could we be living in greater bliss than we are?  What does it mean to you “Loss of innocence”?  If you are a parent have you cried tears of happiness at the purity of your child’s joy, and have you also wept when you’ve watched them realized the horrors people commit against each other?  Any thoughts you might have on this topic are welcome.

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In the Beginning, Part IV

Woman approaches Adam with fruit in hand.  Adam is bent over next to a rock outcrop.

“Adam, I have returned.  I have something for you.”

“I have something for you too.  Check this out.  There is this creature that seems to have been preserved in this rock over here.  I don’t even know what it is.  I named every animal, and this wasn’t one of them.”

“Hmmm…that is weird.  But listen I have something more important.  Here let’s eat this fruit.”

“Oh okay.  I guess I am a bit hungry…er…wait.  Where did you get this fruit?”

Woman gives a little smirk, “Where do you think?  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

“Oh no…no.  We can’t eat this.  Our Father, He had one rule.  That’s it.  Seems pretty clear cut and not a whole lot to ask.”

“Don’t worry Adam.  A talking snake explained it all to me.  We have to eat this fruit.”

“Wait…what!?  Talking snake?  Are there any of those hallucinogenic frogs I named hopping around?  How can there be a talking snake?”

“How can you make a person out of a rib?  Listen we wondered before why He would have put the tree here, and you said He probably knew we weren’t going to touch and so He didn’t think it was important where he put it.  Well what if He put it here, because He wanted us to eat it?”

“Well why would He want us to eat it, but tell us not to eat it?”

“You said you had a lot of questions.  So do I.  Curiosity.  We have loads of it.  These questions burn within us and we want to find the answers to those questions.  That’s how He made us.”

“That’s some pretty good reasoning.  But why can’t we just ask Him and He can explain it to us.”

“Weren’t you listening Adam about making children.  Children grow into adults.  At some point children have to leave the guidance of their parents and make decisions for themselves.  Every home feels like paradise when you’re a child, but this can’t be our home forever.  We have to grow up.”  Woman does her best God impression, “Symbolism!”

Adam’s eyes narrow and his expression hardens, “Alright, let’s do it.  By doing this together we’ll be husband and wife, right?!”

“Oh shut up, and eat the fruit!”

Adam takes a fruit from woman and they both take bites.  Chewing slowly and swallowing.

“Adam, do you feel anything?”

“No nothing.  What about you?”

“I don’t feel anything either.  I thought, for some reason, that I would suddenly understand everything so much better.”

“Yeah, me too.  This is kind of disappointing.”

“You don’t think he just put the tree there as a test to see if we would obey him, and that the tree had no special powers at all do you?”

“No.  That would be kind of cruel.  God wouldn’t do something like that.” The fossil Adam was holding slips out of his hand making a cracking noise as it hits the ground.

The winds begin to shift northerly and pick up speed.

“It’s getting a bit colder Adam.”

“Yeah, well I have noticed the daylight hours gradually getting shorter, so I expect weather patterns will start shift, but also you seem to be naked.”

“What!?  I’m naked?!  Clearly you’re the world’s first crack detective too.  No shit I’m naked.  So are you!”

“Ack…you’re right…I am naked too.  I guess I knew that…but I don’t think I want to be naked anymore.  It doesn’t feel right.  How do we get less naked?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe we should cover up our…um…naughty areas.  I don’t feel like we should just be exposing them for everyone to see.”

“Who’s everyone?  We are the only two people on this planet.”

“I don’t know, let’s just cover up.  I’m going to go find some big leaves.  Maybe from that fig tree over there.”

        Fig leaf only legal as clothing in 12 states.     Warning: Do not check wristwatch while     hiding your nakedness.

“Fig tree?  What’s a fig tree?”

“That tree over there.  You got the animals…I decided I’m naming the plants. Let’s go.”

Woman and Adam walk over to the fig tree to find some suitable leaves.

“Adam, I’m feeling a lot of shame right now…like I need a big leaf to cover my behind, and I feel upset that the leaf   has to be so big.”

“I feel shame too.  Like I need a big leaf to compensate for what seems to be a sub-par dangling appendage.”

“So thus far eating that fruit has only led to feelings of shame associated with a negative self-image.   I don’t know about you, but I’m also feeling regret.”

“Yeah me too.  Being an adult sucks.  I don’t even know who I want to impress.  My motivations are so unclear to me right now, I….wait…do you hear something?”

Woman and Adam stop what they are doing and they hear the sound of rustling leaves and the voice of God humming a merry tune.

Adam whispers, “He’s here!  How come he doesn’t know we already broke the rule?”

“I don’t know.  Inflated sense of self-confidence?”

“Let’s hide!”

“Hide?  What good is that going to do if He’s omniscient?  He’ll know where we are.”

“Just do it! Quick over here among those trees!”

God stops in His tracks and tilts his head listening.

“Adam.  Is that you?  Where are you Adam?”

Adam whispers to woman, “See, told you hiding was a good idea!”

Adam!  I have divine hearing.  I know you’re in the garden somewhere.”

Woman whispers to Adam, “He placed us in the garden, and He knows we’re in the garden somewhere?  I see where you got your detective skills from.”

“I think I should answer Him.  He’ll find us eventually.”

“Fine…but he should have found us immediately as an omniscient creator.”

Adam steps out from behind the trees.  “Oh hey, God. We’re over here.”

Aaah…Adam.  Woman.  How are things been going?  Getting along?  Make any babies yet? Um…wait…why are you holding fig leaves over your naughty areas?

“Well…er…we weren’t sure who it was in the garden and well we were naked and so we hid.  You know…I didn’t want anybody pointing and laughing at me.” Adam blushes.

“Wait!  Who told you, you were naked?  Those are precisely the lust-filled concepts I didn’t want floating around your heads!”  God’s eyes glance towards the Tree of Knowledge. “Have you been eating from the Tree of Knowledge?!  There are two less fruits there than there should be.  I am very good at counting.  The book I’m writing right now even has a chapter called Numbers.  Out with it children.  No lies!”

“Well Father, I was just taking a look, and well this snake came along and really explained it all quite clearly and you know, it just seemed to make sense.”

“Snake?!  I think I know the culprit.  Hold on.”  God vanishes in a puff of awesomeness and returns holding the snake with its stubby little legs waving in the air.

“Alright everyone.  It’s punishment time!”

Adam asks, “Why do You look so gleeful Father?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve never done it before.  New experiences are hard to come by.  Okay now….snake!  You have deceived my creation and for that I am removing your legs and forcing you to crawl on your belly!!”

      Picture of snake eating dust not available.

Snake begins to slither around rather impressively climbing up and down trees and curling around woman’s legs.

“I rather like this…”

“What!?

“I mean punish me no further!”

“Yes…well I curse you to eat dust!”

“Well that would actually make my work easier since dust is everywhere, but I still feel rather hungry for small rodents.”

“And you will now be enemies with mankind.  You will bite at their heel and they will stomp you on the ground!”

Snake slithers up woman and speaks in her ear, “Well we’ll just stay out of each other’s way then yeah?  Seems simple enough?”

Woman responds, “Sounds reasonable to me.”

“Quiet woman!”

“Excuse me.  Woman’s voice will not be silenced.”

“It will.  To punish you for what you’ve done, giving birth will now be of the greatest pain!  And pitocin will not be invented for many years to come!”

“What?!  You want me to populate the human species but are making giving birth the most painful experience in my life.  You’re a sadist you are.  Whatever happened to forgiveness?  Isn’t that a better way to treat your children?”

God thinks about it for a few seconds….”Nope.  Also, I’m not done.  I’m also turning the civilization into a patriarchy.  I wanted everything to be equal, but because of what you’ve done I am making women beholden to their men.”

“What?! Are you kidding me?”  Woman gives an exasperate look and turns red with anger. “Well considering you made me a nameless helper for Adam over there, it probably wasn’t going to get much better anyway.”

Adam woman turns and says with a comforting smile, “I promise to use my power over you responsibly.” Woman gives him a dirty look, killing the grin instantly.

“Adam!  Don’t think I am done! You also ate the fruit against my command.  I curse you to become a farmer.  You will till the earth and eat from it.  It will be hard work and much that grows will have thorns and thistle requiring you to wear thick clothing so that you get very hot and sweaty while you work.  Your diet will mostly be vegetarian in nature due to it providing the maximum amount of calories and nutrition per square foot, and you will eat until you die returning to the earth enriching it with organic material for new plants to grow and continuing a never ending cycle of death and life.”

“Actually that doesn’t sound too bad.  Makes you really appreciate each moment and strive for a better life while you have it.”

“Yeah Adam, I like this part.”

Adam turns to woman and smiles. “I shall name you Eve as you will be mother of all.  And though large amounts of toil and incest lie before us, we’re going to make it.”

“So finally I get a name.  Not bad actually.  But I reserve the right to come up with one of my own if I find something better!”

Adam capitulates, “Fair enough.”

“I just want you to know children that this hurt me more than it hurts you.  I really didn’t want to do all of that, but you forced me hand.”

“Stop victim blaming,” responds Eve, “well…what next?”

“I am sending you out from paradise and you will be cut off from the Tree of Life forever.  But before you do that I am going kill a few animals and make you some clothing.  It’s cold out there East of Eden and I don’t want you to get sick.  Besides people will start dropping like flies once you domesticate large mammals.”

Adam and Even watch incredulously as God slaughters a few animals and skins them. Using a little bit of omnipotence to speed the tanning process.”

There you go, and I put in an extra set so you have something to wear while washing the first set. Now here’s a pack of seeds to start off with as well.  They’re all labeled.  I put them in this little pouch I made from that dead deer over there.”

God snaps His fingers and they are magically transported next to a large river.  “Well good luck.  I’ll make a few appearances again just to make sure everybody is aware of my awesomeness.  Byeeee!”

“Well Eve, I guess we got some seeds to sow.”

“Yeah.”  Eve looks around.  “We’ll probably need something to dig with, let’s see if we can find some tools of some sort over by those trees.”

Adam starts to remove his clothing.  “Those weren’t the seeds I was talking about.”

Under Pressure

I’ve been away from blogging for a little while as work became quite busy and stressful as I was given a project that normally would take several months to prepare for and was given two and half weeks.  I’m not complaining though, I am still very fortunate to have the job that I do, and in the end it was a very rewarding outcome.  I had to organize a Science Olympiad tournament for 40 regional high schools and middle schools and it ended up going very well.  I didn’t actually have to do this task, but if I didn’t a lot of kids would have been hurt, and a lot of teachers very angry and so it really wasn’t something that I took any time to consider, I just knew it had to be done, and I did it because it was the right thing to do.

It got me thinking a lot about stress on how much it affects our behavior.  It cost me my spring break and I was bitter about that.  In that time I was also certainly less attentive to others in my life.  I was more moody, snapped a little more than I probably should have at people that I care about and had a lot of trouble sleeping.  The guilt of snapping at people at being less attentive to others, and lack of sleep are positive feedbacks which worsen your condition.  I am fortunate that it was only a rough few weeks.  I am fortunate to even have a spring break. I am fortunate that even though the semester still has lots of work left in it, there will be summer holidays starting in early May.  There are people who face what I face, every single day of the year, with additional stresses associated with finances that I do not face.  When I reflect on how irrational I might be in times of stress I think about the cumulative effect such things must have some people.  How hard they might struggle to find a way out, who they might time to blame their stress on, and wonder what things they might rely on to find peace.  It makes a lot of irrationality in the world understandable.

At the same time it makes you really question why it has to be that way.  We have the resources to feed everybody, we have the knowledge and ability to give good health care to everyone.  We know a lot about the universe and how to give people quality education, and we know the things that make people truly fulfilled and happy.  We know a lot about our own imperfections and biases so that we can avoid the pitfalls of our flaws.  We know better ways to correct deviant behavior, we know better ways to reduce the possibility of criminal and violent behavior, and we know better ways to raise.  We may not know everything, but we know better.  “Civilized” society seems so counter to how we operate as humans that somedays I really question whether or not it is all worth it.  Even though we might live longer on average than our hunter gatherer predecessors, and can avoid many of the deaths from natural disasters that our predecessors could not, sometimes I do wonder whether or not it was all worth it, and whether or not we shouldn’t all still be climbing trees to pick fruit.  And yeah maybe it would be sad to lose a few people to drought, or malaria, but so much death nowadays seems to be preventable and avoidable.  The destruction in Belgium and Turkey recently really makes one question whether all this is worth it.  Has any of this civilization experiment increased happiness?  Benefitted the home we call Earth?  Given our evolution as a species perhaps this trajectory was unavoidable, but it feels so much easier to accept deaths caused by the pitfalls of living in the wild over seeing death occur from senseless acts of violence that will never lead to any gain, or seeing children die from hunger while not very far away somebody sits on a fortune of money and resources they do not even need.

Alright, I know this is not very cheery and I am not helping much to increase human happiness either, but I think many people share these thoughts.  I of course do believe that this trajectory of civilization was to avoid human suffering and nobody really imagined the consequences we are facing now.  Maybe these are the growing pains we must go through.  I hope that our intelligence is great enough to get us out in the end.  Perhaps the real shame is that our lifetimes are still too short to be able to see the end result of all this suffering.  I wonder if a 13th century scholar who watched people die from plague after plague, and endless crusades and wars, could visit us now if he would actually be impressed with our moral progress.  Maybe what we have now is further than he or she ever dreamed.  Maybe they would remind me to consider myself lucky that I live in such times and that now that they have seen the change possible over the long march of time that there was every reason to continue to have hope and strive for more.  And if there is one thing that I know for sure is that nothing has ever been made better by despair.  And if I want a world in which people do not live in despair and have reason to be hopeful then I must lead by example, even if I only touch a handful of people in my world.  Who knows how far the ripples of our impact will travel through time.

What Makes A Good Human?: Curiosity

If you’ve been reading so far, you might not be convinced with vigilance or play as being important and that love does not conquer all.  As I said, my goal here is not to make any one quality more important than the other, and I hope with this topic I will convince you that life isn’t all about love.

As natural as our capacity to love, is our inherent curiosity about the world.  If you’ve had children, and hopefully paid attention to them, one of the first things you will notice about them is how curious they are.  From simply being curious about who you are when they start seeing 6 inches beyond their face, to be curious about what this thing called a hand is, to starting to interact and test objects out as they begin to grasp them.  They want to explore, they experiment with sounds, they like to watch things fall, taste different things, and they learn by watching you and then imitating.  Curiosity is learning.  The reason why I call this curiosity over learning is that when you say learning people tend to think of book learning or school learning, but learning is far more than that.  And sadly in my experience our education system today tends to squash a child’s natural curiosity in favor of more directed learning for the purposes of getting funding for the school and for you to supposedly get a good paying job.  I remember one time I gave a talk on tornado safety to a group of 2nd graders, I did not even get to start my presentation before a bunch of little hands went up to ask questions.  A lot of them were nonsensical but I loved it all, because it was clear that they were curious and questions seemed to just burst out of them.  In retrospect I was simply not prepared for that level of curiosity.  At the university level I can go through an entire lecture without 1 in a 100 students raising their hand to ask a question about how things work.  Curiosity is an important natural trait that  forces us to ask questions to ourselves and others.  As a society we need to make sure we foster this trait and not suppress it.

As a professor I have been in school for almost my entire life either as a student or a teacher; 37/41 years to be exact.  Obviously I love it, because I love to learn, but I’m not so institutionalized to believe that this is where I’ve done the entirety of my learning.  Now I know there are all sorts of great texts and books written about learning and how we learn, but I don’t want to expound too much on things you can read elsewhere, but I’d rather focus on why learning is important and the different ways we can feed our curiosity.

One important type of learning is purely experiential.  This is the type of learning that leads to wisdom.  Regardless of how much knowledge you accumulate in your head until you actually apply it, you can only understand it really in a theoretical way.  By actively experiencing something through our senses  And of course we can continue this sort of learning throughout our lives through doing.  Whether through learning different hands on skills, trying new foods and cooking new recipes, learning to play an instrument and listening to new music, and traveling.

Now I’d like to spend a little bit more time on traveling.  Certainly traveling to things like museums or traveling to any sort of wonder of nature can be a learning experience.  It can be very fulfilling in the additional for the additional sensory input you gain,  but in some ways is very similar to book learning.  I speak very personally here, but I believe traveling to places different from your everyday world is a very important learning experience. Traveling to a different country is the best way to understand what different societies, cultures and people are like.  There is learning about people of different faiths, different values, and different perspectives.  Curiosity drives us to explore the world, and the world has more to teach you than you think.

In my blog post about love in this series, I talked about how empathy needs to be fed.  Empathy can be broken up into two categories (as illustrated by this great video) into affective empathy and cognitive empathy.  Affective empathy is the compassion we feel when we observe the suffering from another.  Cognitive empathy however is the empathy we gain through learning about others, putting ourselves in their situation, and trying to see something from their perspective.  Something the world could surely use more of.  It is this type of empathy that we can develop through being curious about others regardless of whether they are close to home or far away.  The important thing is to try and know a diverse group of people.   If we can understand someone else’s troubles, pains, and/or suffering, even without going through it ourselves, we are more likely to want to help raise those people up than to allow a situation to continue that harms them.  Many times we are responsible for that harm without even realizing it.  I find it interesting how many politicians change their stance on homosexuality upon finding out that their son or daughter has come out as gay.  The more we intimately know someone the less likely we are to do any action that causes them harm.  How our actions cause harm is the basis of morality.  Thus, actively learning about others makes for a more moral society.

Curiosity also allows us to build our intellect.  For most of us we have done this formally for many years.  Intellectual pursuits, with the exception of those with a clear goal of what they want to achieve in life, often don’t seem to have much value in our day to day lives.  The oft heard complaint, “when am I ever going to use this” speaks to this disconnect between what we learn and what use every day.  Given the wide variety of interests amongst individuals it is unlikely that any one person will feel that everything they are learning has value.  The learning of knowledge, however, is always teaching you one important lesson.  And that’s how to learn.  The more you learn, the more easily you will be able to learn new things.  Humanity has been around for a long time.  It would be nearly impossible to determine a set of knowledge that was important for everybody.  It may also be true that the purpose of school is also to introduce you to things that you don’t know anything about, but might be important to you, that might inspire you and turn into a passion.  The large accumulation of knowledge through human history also means that most of the first things you will learn our foundational and must be built upon to realize their application and use.  Thus diligence plays an important role in learning.

In terms of what knowledge you should learn, in general a breadth of knowledge is best.  Regardless of what your passion might be, it is clear for a democracy to truly be successful it requires people to be knowledgeable about a wide range of issues. But even beyond its value in politics, life is never really about one thing.  One of the ways that you connect with people you meet is by having the knowledge to understand the basics of their interests which would allow you to ask better questions.  When we let our curious nature, then people notice the genuine interest you have for the knowledge base that they have which makes people feel closer and may cause them to become curious about you.  Many academic fields are focusing on interdisciplinary research, because as knowledge has advanced we see how many other areas of study the problems we face include.  For instance take a look at something like climate change.  The scientific basis itself requires knowledge of physics, meteorology, geology, oceanography, geography, biology, and statistics.  Then if we want to act on the issue of climate change we need to understand things like economics, communications, commerce, law, education, emergency management, etc.  Of course one can’t know everything about everything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. 🙂

Is there a dark side to curiosity? I honestly don’t see much of a downside to always being curious.  The only thing that comes to mind is the expanded ego that might come from knowing a lot of things in comparison with others.  The battle against such conceit is dealt with in the next post in this series.

The most important thing to remember is that time spent learning is never wasted and you should never stop.  There are a variety ways we can learn, there is a multitude of people and knowledge to learn from, and it is the best way to continue to grow in an ever changing world.  Being curious is a perfectly natural drive from the day we are born and it requires only an effort of maintenance than an effort in development.  Adults I meet who have that same thirst for knowledge as those 7 year olds in the 2nd grade are always some of the most thoughtful, and enjoyable people to be around.  The best part of traveling on that road of knowledge is that single roads branch in many directions and you never know where you might end up.

Teacher Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

As an educator, naturally I think a lot about education (now if you liked that riveting beginning please read on).  Over my years as a professor we hear a lot of about better methods to educate.  A lot of fancy phrases get thrown around like problem based learning, inquiry learning, student centered pedagogy, etc.  Rather than discuss the merits of these techniques and whether or not they are better than the “chalk and talk” style of teaching (another exciting catch phrase) I want to take a look at things from a more fundamental and philosophical level as is often my nature.

Let’s first forget about the fact that there are multiple learning styles amongst people and that the way we learn also changes as we grow in age.  What I mainly want to talk about has to do with knowledge, learning, and critical thinking and we may return to some more specific stuff later, I really can’t be sure, because I haven’t decided what the point is to this blog. 🙂

So how much knowledge is there in the world?  Before we quibble about what knowledge is, or whether we can truly “know” anything, let’s just sort of look at it from a somewhat quantitative point of view.  It seems clear to me that if you take any field of study we simply know more today than we did yesterday.  Every day we are discovering new things.  So we have a lot more to learn or that we can learn today than in the past.  Yes there are always things that we are going to be a little unsure about or that we are on the leading edge of discovery and so haven’t solidified our views yet, but each day we move a lot of things into “okay we know this” category and out of the “unsure” category.  Truthfully speaking every day we probably do the reverse as well, but I would say there is a net movement towards “knowing” something new all the time.

It is also clear, as we look at education (and I am speaking mostly about North America) that critical thinking skills are low.  I am a huge proponent of encouraging better critical thinking skills in children.  In fact children already have great critical thinking skills, it’s just that the education system eventually drives it out of them.  Perhaps due to the fact that kids are often wrong in the conclusions they make (which by the way is amazingly okay because we should be encouraging the process and I think instead we tend to shut the process down in favor of the “right” answer, and perhaps because education as an institution promotes rote memorization over critical thinking.  Not to give rote memorization a completely bad rap, because I think there always has to be a place for being able to memorize things).

So to go back to my point

From http://www.northwestprimetime.com

about knowledge, there is a lot of things to know and even under the banner of better critical thinking skills it is, in my opinion, extremely wasteful to have young children rediscover everything we know in this world.  I also think this is okay because kids are extremely good at memorizing things so why not let those sponges soak up some basic knowledge?  Some very thought provoking researchers on education like Sugata Mitra would argue that in the age of information memorization of information is not necessary, that anybody can simply look up the information they need.  Given the amount of misinformation out there in cyberspace I think at the very least a basic set of knowledge is required to at least help students from sorting out bad information from good.  And as the picture indicates, memory is an important part of the processor that is our brain.  We need to have some stuff in there.

But young children are good at a lot of things and there are certain ages where they are exceptionally good at certain things such as learning languages, learning mathematics, and rote memorization.   I gave a talk one time to a bunch of 2nd graders on tornado safety and there was not a single student who didn’t have a question and who was curious.  At that point I began to wonder, how do we go from this child thirsty for knowledge to the typical apathetic college student I see in my class? The next question then becomes why don’t we take advantage of what we know about how kids learn and when they learn best?  In answer to that question I have only opinions so please forgive me if I’m grossly mistaken, but I think it comes down to several things:

  • A pace of learning that is too slow. Children become bored and their active minds turn to other things.   The rate in which knowledge is expected to be absorbed by a student actually increases with time which is exactly the opposite order it should be. I’ve heard the argument that young children shouldn’t have to work so hard at school at younger ages that they should play more. My experience in watching young children learn is that play and learning aren’t really that different. And I think there are ways to even make the learning more interactive socially for those who might worry about a loss of social skills as they spend more time learning.
  • A lack of funding for schools and low pay in general for educators. I know, another educator complaining about funding, but the emphasis a society places on good education is important. Giving all schools equity in retaining good teachers, smaller class sizes, and having effective tools for the trade is important. By making teaching a higher paying and attractive career by ensuring they will have the tools they need when they start their career, we can bring in brighter and better teachers. In my experience I have seen far too many students choose teaching (especially in science) because specializing in their chosen interest was too hard. This seems wrong to me. Currently most of the brightest and best go elsewhere because they can make more money, and those that are extremely bright and choose nobility over money (I praise them all!) are often frustrated by a system in which they do not feel supported and actually feel constrained and trapped.  I think the lack of finances is in large part why curriculums become less varied and standardized because they are more easily measurable in making decisions on how to dole out the limited funding that all schools fight for.
  • Homogenizing teaching. The feeling that many teachers have is that they have little freedom in their curriculum or how they teach. Exposing students to a diversity of teaching styles and material increases the value of collaborative efforts among students and helps students understand the teaching style that works best for them. If all students are exactly the same and exposed to exactly the same style of learning it doesn’t surprise me that many students are bored, or don’t see the value of education. It doesn’t surprise me that many students simply see education as a game in which once they figure out the system they can cheat themselves out of actual learning and simply get the grade they need to move forward. Let student’s express their individuality through learning is important, and I think part of that comes from letting teachers express their individuality more through teaching.

I apologize for the length of this post as I find I can never be brief when it comes to talking about education.   I think instead of coming up with ways to make learning fun, let’s remember that for every little kid, learning IS fun.  Let’s figure out instead how to foster that feeling as they grow older.

From http://students.ou.edu