"Completely Inadequate or Outright Mistaken"
Some Saturday morning musings, 50-year-old musings I might add, from John Holt in How Children Learn:
We like to say that we send children to school to teach them to think. What we do, all too often, is to teach them to think badly, to give up a natural and powerful way of thinking in favor of a method that does not work well for them and that we rarely understand ourselves…
Only a few children in school ever become good at learning in the way we try to make them learn. Most of them get humiliated, frightened, and discouraged. They use their minds not to learn but to get out of doing the things we tell them to do—to make them learn. In the short run, these strategies seem to work. They make it possible for many children to get through their schooling even though they learn very little. But in the long run, these strategies are self-limiting and self-defeating, and destroy both character and intelligence. The children who use such strategies are prevented by them from growing into more than limited versions of the human beings they might have become. This is the real failure that takes place in school; hardly any children escape.
When we better understand the ways, conditions, and spirit in which children do their best learning, and are able to make school into a place where they can use and improve the style of thinking and learning natural to them, we may be able to prevent much of this failure. School may then become a place in which all children grow, not just in size, not even in knowledge, but in curiosity, courage, confidence, independence, resourcefulness, resilience, patience, competence, and understanding. To find how to do this best will take us a long time. We may find, in fifty or a hundred years that all of what we think of as our most up-to-date notions about schools, teaching and learning are either completely inadequate or outright mistaken. But we will make a big step forward if, by understanding children better, we can undo some of the harm we are now doing. [Emphasis mine.]
Here we are, 50 years later, and we may just now be beginning to challenge the fundamental premise of the institution. More smart, passionate educators are acknowledging the uncomfortable realities of teaching and leading in systems that feel increasingly obsolete and irrelevant to the modern world.
So, what if we’ve got it wrong? What if the efficiencies we’ve built in to the current design of schools, the age-groupings, the disciplines, the standardized assessments, the best-guess curriculum…what if all those things are now “inadequate” or “mistaken?”
By the way, none of those efficiencies come up when I ask educators “What are the conditions necessary for children to learn most deeply and powerfully?” Yet the disconnect between the answers we give and the realities of the classroom is acute.