Trust The Children

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cornerstones Are Very Hard

In the old days of constructing a building, a major milestone after digging down for the foundation, was the setting of the cornerstone. Once the cornerstone was in place, all other measurements for the foundation were made from it. The other stones in the corners were placed as well. Then the distance wide, the distance long and then the distance diagonally from all corners could be measured and confirmed so that you knew the foundation was the right size and that it was square. From there, the rest of the foundation stones were put in place. On top of those stones, the rest of the building could be built and if true to the foundation, it also would be square, and strong. It all began with the cornerstone.

What I am going to share may not be the cornerstone, but I do believe that it is one of the stones in the corners. It was a statement I read in the book by Malcolm Knowles "The Adult Learner". I shared it with several professional educators, and universally, they agreed to it, but also said, they had never thought of "teaching" that way. It is a short statement, which I think contributed to the power of it. He said, "... the learning theory subscribed to by a teacher will influence his or her teaching theory." (Knowles, p. 73) What does this mean? It struck me that what we believe about how a student learns, causes us to make decisions about the methods we choose to teach with. It is often, but not always, a cause and effect relationship.

So what assumptions do most teachers make about who their students are and how they learn?

What assumptions to the "teachers" of our children make and what teaching methods, then do they use?

How do these assumptions made by teachers or parents about how students/children learn, impact the generations of future adults?

Answering these questions, I believe goes right to the heart of why we chose to home school.

If Cyndy and I make the same assumptions about how children learn and choose the same methods that the public environment employ, the only difference is that we are a smaller group and hopefully a warmer environment. But we still pass on to our kids, the same traditions as the public school environment, because we may have made largely, the same assumptions.

However, if we send our children to the public school, especially, in the younger, formative years, we have no chance to change the assumptions made by others about how our children learn and therefore the assumptions about how our children should be taught.

At least at home, the opportunity exists that we as parents can adopt new assumptions about how children learn. Outside the home, those choices and their consequences are made for us and passed on to yet another generation, who in turn will most likely make the same assumptions about learning and teaching when they begin families of their own.

Much like my professional educator friends, our children as future parents, will most likely not question these assumptions, just as we have not, of how their children learn and therefore the assumptions underlying how they are taught. Our children will mostly likely, as so many parents do, pass on the traditions of the fathers. Whether the assumptions are correct or beneficial it will not matter. Even if there is a stunting effect on the use of agency by children in learning as a result of these choices it will not matter, because the assumptions are not questioned.

And even if someone suggests that the very purpose of life is that we as students are to "learn by our own experience" i.e. use of agency or freedom of choice, to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, or how to spell correctly, we risk quietly dismissing even the thought.

However, I need to point out, adopting the assumption that children are primarily empty vessels that must be filled and "teachers" are just the people to do the filling, is a much easier to do, than to create an environment where children learn for themselves what they need to learn, by being confronted with choices and learning from the results of their choices.

I am confident, though, that if we ask ourselves the question, "How can I help them learn for themselves what the need to learn?" and persist in asking ourselves this question, the answers will eventually come. We may not like the timing of the learning, but we can be comforted that they will have learned for themselves because we adopted a method that mirrors sound, even heavenly, patterns. This stone contributes to the foundation being correctly laid and the building fitly framed.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home