If you are fortunate enough to witness the first year of a child’s life, you’ll learn just how amazing the human mind is. The first year is a series of intensely curious discoveries, profound exploration and repeated experimentation with frequent trials and errors. It’s undeniably incredible to watch, to hear and to learn how easily and naturally little babies amass volumes of data from the world around them. I saw this years ago with my own children and now have the privilege to witness it again with my one year old grandson, Troy.
The world is Troy’s school and there is no limit to what he’s about to learn.
The data he is collecting for the next five or six years is for analysis and future reference. It’s stored in his memory for retrieval and further exploration. It triggers his mind to question, examine, and re-examine as needed for clarity and dependability. He came hard-wired with these capabilities, they are not taught, it’s intuitive. It’s the most intriguing and amazing study of pure self-directed learning.
When a child reaches five or six, some form of schooling is usually introduced. For most, it’s a local elementary school.
There are two paths a child can take when they go to elementary school.
First Path: They learn the value of coloring within the lines, following rules, performing for rewards, and not bringing too much attention to themselves. They do fairly well curbing their curiosity, limiting their questioning and forgoing any individual interests at least between the hours of approximately 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. They learn what the teacher wants and how to make her or him happy. They repeat, regurgitate and re-align their early and vast data collection methods to a more narrow version with a predetermined data set given to them by the teacher. The prescribed information flows wide across grade levels but not very deep. They figure out how to get good grades, learning what counts and what doesn’t. They navigate grade levels and eventually graduate high school. Teachers love these kind of students, it makes them feel like they did a good job. Parents are proud as well.
Second Path: They ask a lot of questions and blurt out answers when not chosen to speak. They dislike worksheets and homework, avoiding them when they can. They want to explore, be creative and share their curiosity with others. They ask for, and like to choose, projects that interest them. They may investigate the inner workings of the pencil sharpener, light switches, electrical outlets and every piece of technology within their reach. They want to know why and how things work. They are constantly collecting seen and unseen data that doesn’t necessarily translate into good grades. Sometimes they are held back a grade level, given labels such as gifted or learning disabled, or referred for interventions. They just don’t fit the “typical student” mold.
Note: The first path of schooling categorically stunts the natural learning of a child and relegates them to memorization of narrow curricular knowledge, presented in meaningless morsels that are often totally unrelated from one year to the next. It wipes out intrinsic motivation in favor of an extrinsic reward system. It acknowledges one type of genius to the exclusion of all others. It lessens the value of free play, creativity, and self-directed learning. There is never enough time, enough space or enough acceptance of differences no matter how inclusive schools claim they are. Kids are placed in grade level boxes with a set curriculum and there they must remain until elementary school is over. It’s particularly overwhelming for children who have no voice.
The second path looks and sounds more like the first five years when children learn at their own rate and exponentially. It’s messy, it’s loud, it can be annoying at times but it is far more authentic and more relevant to the learner. It allows for intense curiosity, exploration and trial and error without evaluation or punishment. It trusts the innate abilities each child has to go deep rather than wide on topics of interest, not mandated subjects. Our schools are often not structured for this kind of learning. In fact, they tend to frown upon it which is why so many are choosing homeschooling options.
As I always make sure to say, and I’ll say again, there are deeply caring teachers who, if given the opportunity, would love to have the kind of environment that fosters second path kind of learning. That said, it is difficult to imagine schools relinquishing firmly held and narrow views of learning. Unfortunately, there are many who still believe that children need to get with the program and develop grit to persevere in school. That’s how they will be educated and that’s the expectation.
Going to school and getting an education are not synonymous. You can go to school and not get an education and you can get an education without going to school.
I want Troy to have the whole world as his school, with his mommy, daddy and all of his extended family helping him along the way. I’m going to do my part as Grammy to make sure his learning takes flight in whatever direction he chooses to fly.
I want this for every child.