Monday, July 16, 2012

It's not the kids that need educating...

It's their parents.

I realize that parents who try to get their young babies a "head start" mean well.  But then, so did that couple who only fed their newborn soy milk and apple juice.  (That loved but very unfortunate baby did not survive.)  Obviously, people who are subjecting their babies to 'Your Baby Can Read', "Frogster" "Learning" toys and other 'head start' paraphernalia are not actually killing hurting their children. 

But they are very likely hurting their child's natural curiosity and desire to learn.   This whole idea of trying to teach an infant to read would be akin to people creating programs to help 6 week old babies to learn to walk.  (Positively preposterous!) 

There are well established growing stages which are critical for proper brain development.  Learning to creep, for instance, has to do neurological development. 

Another practical example of misguided attempts to 'force' development is the baby walker*.  Studies suggest that the walker is harmful to the child's cephalocaudal development.  That is, the walker forces the child to use her legs and feet to gain mobility before she has even learned how to creep.  (Not to mention, of course, all the terrible injuries children suffer as a result of accidents in the walker.)

I'm laying some ground work here to establish that - exceptional individuals notwithstanding - there are definite neurological, emotional and social developmental stages that are chronological and chronological for good reason!

And now, we come to "early learning".  Early learning is a Real Thing.  It is valid and true.  And it requires practically ZERO intervention from adults.   Guidance, yes.  Intervention, no.

Think with me for a moment about the acquisition of language by a newborn, infant, baby, then toddler.  This fundamentally necessary learning is carried out by a weak, completely dependent, tiny, wordless person who has no discernible skill set, no preparation for the task, no special instruction and most of all no carrot and stick motivation by the adults.  Language acquisition is a complex and long term event, for sure.  Yet when one considers the all that is accomplished in under a year... it is nothing short of monumental.  And still.  So Very Ordinary.  It's what human babies do.  They hear language, see body language and then they say and do it! 

John Holt has said in one of his books (I forget which it is, but it's either How Children Learn - probably! - or How Children Fail) that the babies employ true scientific method in the process.  They observe, make a hypothesis, then experiment.  Which explains how they sometimes mix up the pronouns and articles or tenses.  It's cute to us, but it's really the child making inferences from other situations in which he heard the language and then inserting it into another scenario where he thinks it will belong. 


And ALL on her own!

No instruction required. 

This person also learns, congruently I might add, an inordinate number of data about the world around her purely from observation and experimentation. 

And here parents and would-be educators come waltzing in on the assumption that the child is stupid and unable to learn anything useful without their help.  Which leads me to a very interesting book I am reading called The Ignorant Schoomaster by Jacque RanciĆ©r.  This excerpt amazon blurb succinctly sums it up as such:
... It is the story of Joseph Jacotot, an exiled French schoolteacher who discovered in 1818 an unconventional teaching method that spread panic throughout the learned community of Europe.
Knowing no Flemish, Jacotot found himself able to teach in French to Flemish students who know no French; knowledge, Jacotot concluded, was not necessary to teach, nor explication necessary to learn. The results of this unusual experiment in pedagogy led him to announce that all people were equally intelligent. From this postulate, Jacotot devised a philosophy and a method for what he called "intellectual emancipation"--a method that would allow, for instance, illiterate parents to themselves teach their children how to read.
  It is this book and recent commentary on social media that has my feathers all sticking up in the air, charged with electricity again.  It is the old frustration with people confidently upholding a fatally flawed system and perpetuating -on a colossal scale- this poor facsimile of education.   I am enjoying reading it because the author articulates the thoughts that have been suspended like dark matter in my own consciousness. 

Thoughts which, yet again, have caused me to think about how we can change "The System".

I do not think it can change until the educators who are a part of (the facilitation) of this fledgling paradigm shift begin to fully and intentionally engage with the parents

Parents who want the best for their children.  Parents who want their children to be ready for tomorrow.  Parents who are expecting a competitive marketplace for high school, college, careers.  Parents who don't know how to think any other terms.  Parents who DO need guidance, sign posts, invitations even, to rethink what kind of life, what kind of world they hope for their children and future generations. 

The time of one-up-manship and competition is coming to a close.  The time of cooperative, collaborative community living is coming. 

People will still be wonderfully singular in what they bring to the world.  Everyone cannot be good at only one or two things.  Our strength is in our diversity, and more so in the embracing of the diversity and working together to create new (yet unimaginable) realities. 

It is imperative that we allow children to develop at their own pace, to encourage and support them.  It is crucial that we allow our children to continue to know that learning is synonymous with living.  That the two are one.  That there is no special place or time where learning begins or ends. 

It is even more important that we help their parents understand why this is so so SO urgent; so critical.

How, exactly, do we do that?