Monday, January 26, 2015

How Children Fail

I just finished the book How Children Fail by John Holt and I cant begin to describe the vast amount of wisdom that is held within its 176 pages. Holt wrote this book based on the observations he made of students in a journal in how they were learning or failing to learn. He believes that school is a prison in which children are coerced to learn things that is unimportant to them and does not make sense to them. Therefore they do not retain any of the information they are given. As a teacher he believes that the education system thrives on a system of right answers and that right answers are the only ones that matter. Teachers give tests, and give reviews to tests telling children exactly what they should know on the test so that when test time comes children will only appear to have learned what they were taught.

What I would like to do here is to share some of his quotes that I felt were really meaningful and made me think very deeply about what it means to educate children.

"Our learning is not real, not complete, not accurate, above all not useful, unless we take these word strings and somehow convert them in our minds into a likeness of the world, a working mental model of the universe as we know it. Only when we have such a model, and when there is at least a rough correspondence between that model and reality, can it be said of us that we have learned something."

I have seen with own eyes, as a teacher in the classroom and as a parent,  how disconnected learning can be from the real world. Like when I am trying to teach Ameera a math concept such as multiplication but I don't provide an example in a real world setting it goes completely unabsorbed. Had we come to a situation in which the concept arose naturally she would then, out of curiousty ask me about it and then we would learn it together to get the answer, thereby really learing and absorbing the material.

"Children--get into the habit of waiting for teachers to show them how to do everything, so that they may continue a process of blind imitation--. They do not expect to figure out from mere words what it is that one wants them to do. Nor can they distinguish between goal and the route needed  to get there, the job to be done, and the method needed to do it. If someone gives them a problem, they either know or don't know how to do it, the problem itself is meaningless to them. And this is the great danger of asking children to manipulate symbols whose concrete meaning they do not understand. After a while they come to feel--that all symbols are meaningless. Our teaching is too full of words , and they come to soon."

"With enough time, it might be possible to go back to the beginning and rebuild [a] child's intelligence. But this could not be done unless the outside world left her alone while she was learning to make sense of things, and did not try to make her appear to know and di not try to make her feel foolish  or ashamed  for knowing so little"

"When children are doing concrete operations --doing things that they feel are sensible, getting ansers by themselves , answers they can be sure are right, there is much to be said for letting them use a cumbersome method until they feel thoroughly secure in it, before suggesting the possibility that there may be an easier way"

"We ask children to do for most of the day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us attending say a lecture that doesn't interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Yet children have far less awareness of their control of their attention than we do. [...] A child is most intelligent when the reality before him arouses in him a high degree  of attention, interest, concentration, involvement-in short, when he cares most about what he is doing."

Children have a natural tendency to want to seek out answers to things they don't know or understand.  The message being relayed here is that we just have to put trust in our children to let them learn they way they know how. The only way I see being able to do that is to relinquish control and become more of an observer and advisor or a guide.

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