This has become quite a meandering little ramble, prompted by a very simple exchange. Forgive me for not being more succinct in my thoughts. This is largely just me, thinking out loud and trying to connect the dots.
When it comes to education, our society places so many unrealistic and trivial expectations on children. Rather than giving them the opportunity and freedom to learn (truly learn) and master skills at their own pace and in their own way, they are most often expected to learn the material at the same rate as their classmates and in the manner established by their teacher, without their individual needs really being taken into account.
(Now, I do understand why this has come to be in classrooms of 20-30, especially considering the fast pace of modern life where merely making it through the day is the goal of many, but all that is really beside the point if one is interested in the education of a child).
Individuals are all unique, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t make sense to me to force children into a prescribed mold and label him one way or another based on whether or not he conforms to this mold – especially when the typical methods of learning these things are often unbearably dull, unimaginative, and restrictive.
I’ve started thinking on this because of a bit of online messaging between my mother in law and me. She was amazed today when she realized that the colors of the rainbow Jonas (age 4.5) drew at her house the other day were in the correct order.
“How does he know that!?!” she asked, just like that.
Well, he was interested in drawing rainbows this fall, so he learned the order.
My wonderful mother in law was a K4 teacher for many years in the Milwaukee Public Schools. She insists that it is very unusual for a four year old to know this, and that, in fact, she doesn’t remember any of her students knowing it. Her incredulity made me chuckle, though. Why shouldn’t he know it? Why shouldn’t little children know plenty of wonderful and detailed little things about their world?
Now granted, God has blessed Jonas with a sharp mind and a very good memory, and maybe it is unusual, but there is no reason a four year old can’t learn and retain this kind of information. I’m sure she had students over the years who knew this particular tidbit, and it just never came up in class. Kids know all kinds of things that we adults are unaware of.
My point, really, is that kids are capable of far more, intellectually, than adults give them credit for. If a child is nurtured and given the right resources, if he is left to play and be creative and follow his interests, if he’s not made to feel stressed out and over burdened, he can learn just about anything. Unfortunately, not all children are blessed with environments that nurture their minds (and souls), that do what is necessary to kindle their God given curiosity. They may not be offered a lot of opportunity to just learn stuff. To learn in their way, to learn what is interesting to them, to learn for the sake of knowing, to learn in a way that it will be remembered….
Would Jonas be less intelligent if he didn’t know the color order of the rainbow? No, of course not. And yet, that is how we often treat children and their education: like a checklist. And we use that list to compare them to their peers and label them “gifted” or “remedial” or whatever. Education is not a checklist. It’s not merely something you do sitting in a little desk in a school building for seven hours a day. Education is a lifelong undertaking. It isn’t about merely acquiring a set of facts and skills that teachers and school boards and the government see fit for our children to learn so that they can do well on a test and be good little members of society. Education is about marveling in and loving the world that God created; it’s about appreciating beauty and order and truth and a host of other things; it’s about the love of learning; it’s about learning how to think – not what to think.
My desire as a mother is to open up as many avenues of learning as possible for my children. To allow them to explore and wonder and take pleasure in the world around them. To let them go at their own pace and work things out. I think if that is the starting point, then they will find success in their educational endeavors. There are certain things our children need to be taught, no doubt, and some of those things might not be enjoyable for them. I do understand that, but sometimes I feel like our society makes all of education such drudgery, and it doesn’t need to be that way, and it would be much more beneficial to the children if it wasn’t.
And by the way, none of this is said to, in any way, infer that our home life is an example of education at its very best or to belittle my mother in law’s teaching experiences. She is such a blessing to us, and especially to the kids. She is completely in her element with them, and her years of teaching have really given her the skill to listen to and interact with toddlers. The exchange just sparked some thoughts in me. Certainly working in a city school gives her a completely different lens through which she views these things, than my own.