Frank Smith’s The Book of Learning and Forgetting is one of those reads that had me nodding my head the entire way through it. In it, he outlines two theories of learning. One, the “classic” view, goes like this:
We learn from people around us with whom we identify. We can’t help learning from them, and we learn without knowing that we are learning…Just about all the important knowledge we have about our personal worlds, and the skills we have developed to navigate through these worlds, are a direct result of learning in the classic way.
Smith counters that, however, with what he calls the “official” view of learning, which he calls “preeminent, coercive, manipulative, discriminatory–and wrong.”
It is a theory that learning is work, and that anything that can be learned provided sufficient effort is expended and sufficient control enforced. The theory has gained supreme power in educational systems from kindergarten to university. It has become so pervasive that many people can’t imagine an alternative to it.
This is the view–I call it the official theory of learning and forgetting–that is responsible for:
–compelling people to try to learn in the most inefficient way possible, with rapid forgetting guaranteed,
–persuading individuals that they won’t learn unless they make a determined effort, and that the fault is theirs if they fail,
–segregating learners at school so they can’t help each other, in the process making life as difficult as possible for teachers,
–coercing learners and teachers into ineffective programs of study designed by distant authorities who have no way of knowing or rectifying the difficulties they create,
–forcing learners and teachers to waste their time on repetitive exercises and drills that teach only that learning is frustrating and difficult,
–imposing discriminatory and discouraging ‘tests’ that ensure that individuals who most need help and encouragement get the least,
–convincing teachers, learners, and parents that the most important thing about education is scores and grades,
–making learning a trial when it should be a pleasure, and making forgetting inevitable when it should be insignificant.
What do you think?