Discover more from Challenging Assumptions
It's Hard to Lose Learning
Children learn all the time, in school or out. And, unlike the memorization that often characterizes school-type "learning," learning that results from interest and experience isn't easily forgotten.
That time of year has arrived. Parents, writers, tutors, teachers, and other interested parties are all talking about how to prevent a mysterious affliction called “learning loss” in children while they're not in school, and counseling about how to prepare them to supposedly resume learning when school resumes in the fall. The angst related to this annual ritual seems worse this year, after all the disruption in schooling due to Covid-19.
I'd like to point out – as I've been doing for 45 years – that children learn all the time, whether they're in school or not. In fact, they're more apt to learn outside of school, when they're exploring, experimenting, and interested in what they're doing. So, while you might believe that kids have not been learning when they've been out of the classroom, they have!
When children attend school, they are taken from their situation of living/learning into a totally new, unreal way of life. Nathan Isaacs, a British author and educator who has popularized the work of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, has described the typical school classroom as a “looking-glass world.” Rather than being a stimulating learning environment, it requires a set of rather passive behaviors, orchestrated by an unknown adult, and directed by a master plan that is also unknown to the children. In fact, as generations of home educating parents have learned, schooling can often get in the way of learning, rather than facilitate it.
Learning loss is also an adult construct designed to convince us that children need to be in school because that's the only place they learn anything of real value. But, as you know if you've ever tried to break a habit or change an attitude/assumption (such as the one that says children learn best in school!), unlearning something that's truly been learned is very difficult, if not impossible.
Much of what happens in school is actually memorization rather than true learning. And something that has been memorized can, in fact, be forgotten. Could it be that this mythical loss of learning reflects a concern that kids will lose future income and status if they don't meet the official benchmarks set by schools and measured by testing the material that has, more often than not, been memorized? After all, those benchmarks provide a roadmap for college or university acceptance, presumably resulting in a degree or two or three. And that is thought by many to equate with financial prosperity and to be a mark of success or prestige in our society, although both of those assumptions are no longer necessarily true.
Piaget wrote about the importance of children being able to interact with their environment on their own terms, determining their own process and rate of development. All the testing, measuring, and grading that goes on in schools ignores this important concept. But I think we owe it to our children and their futures to help them to focus on the process of learning about life instead of the content of a one-size-fits all curriculum. The protection of the love of learning and creativity – as well as the development of problem solving and research skills – are worth caring about. Love of learning is fragile and can be easily destroyed by the coercive teaching of topics in which children are not interested or that they are not yet ready to know about. On the other hand, facts and skills are easily retained when they are learned in a context relevant to daily life and experience – that is, when a person wants to know them because they have a need to know them and when they are just a joyful part of living.
So what can we adults do to ensure children keep learning? We can nurture and honour their curiosity.We can trust their ability to make sense of the world on their own, and to learn skills and facts without being taught. We can trust them not to learn certain things if they don’t perceive a need – knowing that we are helping them learn the skills that will allow them to find that information if and when they do need it. We can share information, asking them questions only when we don’t know the answers and answering theirs when asked. We can be their guides when required and their inspiration when we truly want to share a passion. We can model a life of being as well as doing and a pursuit of life skills as well as intellectual ones.
Then they will be truly learning, and that won't be lost over a few months.
Photo licensed via Shutterstock
Thanks for reading Challenging Assumptions! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.