Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on learning by John Holt


With about 20%
of our students
currenty failing
we need to focus more on learning than teaching?
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In recent years we have wasted far too much time and energy trying to ‘deliver’ almost incoherent curriculums based on a number of learning areas, strands, level and learning objectives. And, to compound things, we have tried to ‘deliver’ such a technocratic nightmare by means of isolated subject teaching in school designed in an industrial age. This is old mind stuff for an old world. No wonder so many students fail – where are their concerns in all this?

As John Holt wrote, ‘It’s the expert who is liable to cling to a past which no longer exists’. Such ‘experts’ must feel that what they present in their carefully wrapped packages are the last word on learning. All that needs to be done is for it to be ‘delivered’ to students and then the students tested to see what more they need.

It is all so certain and predicable. It is a shame that reality does not match this technocratic dream – or nightmare!

As Holt says about himself that in contrast that he expects to,
‘live his whole life about as ignorant and uncertain and confused as I am now, and I have learnt to live with this, not to worry about it. I have learnt to swim in uncertainty the way a fish swims in water. It seem to me it only in this way that it is possible to live in the kind of rapidly changing world in which, as I say, we know so very little, in which, even if the experts know more than we do, we have no way of knowing which expert knows the most. In other words, we are obliged to live our lives thinking, acting, and judging on the basis of the most fragmentary information.’

The point is, he continues, that,
‘this is what very young children are good at….The very young child faces a world which is by and large, totally incomprehensible, just a ‘blooming buzzing confusion’. But he is not afraid of this confusion. He doesn’t feel he has to have it all taped. He is not only able but eager to reach out into this world that doesn’t make any sense and to take it in…..He is willing to tolerate misunderstanding, to suspend judgment, to wait for patterns to emerge, for enlightenment to come to him… And indeed, for facing situations of enormous complexity, traditional methods of analytic thinking are really no use.’
The enormous strength of children’s’ thinking, Holt says, lies in their ability to move joyously,eagerly, into this extraordinary confusion, doubt and uncertainty. They take it in and they wait for patterns and similarities and regularities of that world to appear. The young child Holt continues, is continually building a mental model of the world, of the universe, and then checking it against reality as it presents itself to him, and then tearing it down and rebuilding it and checking again.

What happens in school, as defined by the ‘experts’ is a different matter.

Holt says,’
I don’t believe in curriculum. I don’t believe in grades don’t believe in teacher judged learning. I believe in children learning with our assistance and encouragement the things they want to learn, how they want to learn it, why they want to learn it. This is what it seems to me education must now be about.’

No wonder Holt gave up on schools! I am with him – that is unless things change. Down with the ‘experts’ – it time to trust ourselves.


Anonymous said...

We have to do the 60's again but this time it has to stick!

Anonymous said...

To have creative education teachers need the intellectual freedom to be creative. Until this happens little will change! In the meantime those who know the least about classroom realities will have the most say.

Anonymous said...

I thought you were an expert?

Bruce Hammonds said...

'Expert'? I prefer 'heretic'( until I worked out the fate of heretics!) and now catylist will do for me. Heretic just means having an alternative 'view' to those in power.

I think an 'expert' implies knowing all the answers; but always from a safe distance.I just know the 'direction', more or less, and a few ideas that might get us there, but the how is over to whoever who shares similar views.

Anyway I always say to people, 'never quote me - if you like the ideas they were always yours'.

And 'expert' or not, I have no real power to change anything except for sharing ideas with like minds