Trust The Children

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Story of the Hammer and the Nail

Perhaps you have heard the saying, "To a hammer every problem is a nail"? In other words, the hammer just can't think in any terms other than nails. Perhaps then, to every Superintendent of Public Instruction or politician who oversees the "business" and I mean the BIG business of public education (there is a huge clue here), every problem is solved with more of the same 'ol same 'ol. Same premises, same methods, same players, same attitudes except more of it all... this is the solution for sure this time! Why reinvent the business of education in this state, when they have no one they compete with? They get paid the same no matter what their results, and in fact lobby for more money to use the same broken system to achieve the same or poorer results. This is the message of the article "Vision for Schools - Gregoire: State must improve education to compete globally" in today's Columbian. It sounds like change, but it really is "we need more of your money to control." Sell this big enough and we CAN raise taxes.

Is there an explanation for this? Perhaps. Parents and educators continue to believe that ALL children learn cognitively, because this is all parents and educators can remember from their own educational experience. Both have largely forgotten how they really learned when they were young. It is this forgetting that causes these hammers to forever see the problem as a nail, saying forever as the Governor said, "that Washington must *invest* in a world-class education system if it hopes to retain its competitive edge in the global economy", also known as "spend more money", our money, without giving us a choice in the matter. And that to get the same or poorer results. We entrust our most precious commodity to them, our children and by their own admission, too often this treasure is squandered.

Perhaps it would help if the hammer could see something else in the world besides the nail. Let's give it a try. First divide children into manageable groups. 0-12 and 13+. This is more important than you think. The discussion about one group is too often applied to the other group and confusion is the result. For the younger group, who are forming their attitudes about "learning" itself, whether they love to learn or hate to learn, let's adopt the premise that the primary way they learn is by observation and experimentation not by instruction. Let me say that again. The primary way this younger group learns is by observation and experimentation not by instruction.

Complicated skills like talking and walking for example are all learned by watching and trying, not by attending advanced or remedial classes on the subject. There are actually studies that support the idea that even reading is learned more by observation than by instruction. Nine of our eleven children have all taught themselves to read, for example, primarily because we read to them and read a lot ourselves as their parents. That is part of the job of a parent after all, to model something that when observed by their own children is worthy of emulation.

This premise, that younger children learn more by observation and experimentation than by lecture, has very far reaching implications. Yes, the NEA, politicians and others will argue to preserve the status quo of the "business" they are in. They have a monopoly after all, and who wouldn't fight to maintain that? Both parents and educators need to reinvent education more today than ever before, just as other "businesses", facing market realities, need to. To put it in a nutshell, when we take a cognitive approach to children who ache from the current educational process, many of our children lose, ever so slowly, their love of learning. For many the light just goes out. Where does that lead? That seed sown in the early years, is what the educators of the older group end up reaping. Can anyone argue how difficult it has become for "instructors" of the older group to just survive in the classroom? Sow a different seed in the younger years and the harvest reaped in the older years is more bountiful. And while the law of the harvest plays itself out, do the best we can to help the older group recapture their love of learning until the new younger crop begins to make it into the system.

What is that different seed that needs to be sown? It begins with a change in premise. A paradigm shift. Begin here..."The primary way this younger group learns is by observation and experimentation not by instruction." The genesis of improvement in the education of our children must be a fundamental change in the premise of the hammer. Instead of the same old nail, the hammer needs to begin seeing that younger children learn primarily by observation and experimentation, not by instruction. Work on that for a while, and over time the rest gets very obvious.


  • This idea that "The primary way this younger group learns is by observation and experimentation not by instruction." is very interesting to me. Maybe you can share more examples where you've seen this to be the case other than just reading. I remember hearing about a study done in how very young children in South America could learn to cook very complex food, just by watching. I bet there are more proofs for the theory out there.

    By Blogger David Weiss, at 7:15 PM, September 08, 2006  

  • "When I hear, I forget, when I see, I remember, when I do, I understand." In my own homeschooling experience, I am beginning to see the futility of "instruction." My children learn only when they are personally interested and personally involved. All other "instruction" is a waste of my time.

    By Blogger funnymommy, at 6:23 PM, September 10, 2006  

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