Education: Schooling, Teaching, Learning

The current problems with education do not lie with teachers, but rather with the politicization of education, the systemic pathologies of schooling, and the scattered and confused nature of our understandings of learning, teaching, and the nature of childhood. We have fallen into a linear and mechanistic view of teaching and learning that is devoid of creativity, curiosity, and any of the wonderful attributes of complex living beings. Children as unique learners and thinkers are not a part of the agenda of schooling other than as numbers for money and for political capital.

My view is one of children as competent and complex learners and thinkers who are innate pattern thinkers and systems thinkers. Before schooling destroys their propensities, they are curious, inquisitive, and full of wonder. They learn through play, enacted drama, stories, experimentation, observation, and exploration. They communicate through play, stories, drama, art, music, dance, and writing. Their imaginations open doorways to all kinds of possibilities and worlds. Yet, schools do very little to capitalize on these natural propensities. In fact, the system of schooling tends to force upon children ways of thinking and acting that undermine these very powerful ways of thinking that children will need to survive and flourish in the future.

As educators and parents, we need to:

  • support
  • guide
  • orchestrate
  • instigate
  • facilitate
  • coach
  • mentor
  • challenge
  • provoke

This list of metaphors for the roles we should play need to be pondered.

  • What would it look like if I actually "instigated"?
  • How would I "provoke"?
  • What does it really mean to be a "mentor" and for my students to be "apprentices"?

We can find examples of teachers and classrooms and even some schools where this sort of transformation has occurred. However, such examples are either among individual teachers or clusters of teachers and isolated schools (and usually pre-schools). And, such patterns are not isolated to the United States, or to any particular pattern of nation or culture. We have fallen into a largely dysfunctional, pathological system of education. "Reform" movements only tinker with broken systems.

Reform movements do not question the big or even small assumptions that underlie the whole of our education system. They leave untouched the fundamental attitudes, assumptions, structures, and patterns of schooling, when these may be part of the problem. In the Musings on Assumptions, I bring up a few common "things" that tend to go unquestioned by children, parents, teachers, and others. Yet, these things carry some fundamental assumptions about the way we view education, learning, teaching, children, and teachers. And, from my point of view, they comprise a learning context that is not particularly healthy or helpful. We may talk about children learning to be independent and responsible in school, but we undermine those very goals by ringing bells, enforcing rules about standing and walking in lines, obeying an absurd number of ridiculous rules, and so forth. They never have a chance to really learn to be independent and what that actually feels and looks like. What are the limits? What are the risks? What are the benefits? The same with responsibility. They never have a chance. We can go through just about every action, sign, symbol, and piece of jargon can find numerous assumptions that undermine the very things we'd like children to learn.

To transform education, everything we do helps. But, we need parents and teachers working together to really make a difference. And, children have to be the focus and have to be involved as co-conspirators (I love the metaphor… it is, after all, about their lives, their futures).

A clip from Michael Moore's "Where to Invade Next" on schools in Finland

This clip summarizes some of the basic principles of how schools can be designed to optimize children's personal growth and learning. And, Finland may be the only country doing this. However, these principles are incorporated by individual schools, programs, and teachers scattered around this and other countries.

Index of Additional Pages about Schooling, Teaching, and Learning


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©2015 Jeffrey W. Bloom

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