The way kids learn “naturally”

pakistani_parenting_tips_no_spanking_A friend of mine has recently brought to my attention the backwards notion that “natural” isn’t always better. In a humorous tone, he relates that toilet usage is an entirely man-made activity, as is driving cars and fornication in privacy.

I get what he’s saying, but I also see the value in not going against the flow, and when children’s brains are designed (that word might be another point of contention) to learn in a specific way, then it’s best to allow that to happen, right? I believe so.

In a recent article for Life Learning Magazine, Wendy Priesnitz writes that Unschooling reflects current cognitive research. She’s referring to the flood of new research that’s advocating for the harnessing of intrinsic motivation rather than external manipulation as well as spontaneous, interest-driven persuits rather than a sequential set of arbitrary steps to mastery.

She also discusses the phenomena that shows that testing, grading and third-party curricula can impede learning rather than enhance it. Tests are not harmless.

In summary; she says:

All of this shows that children’s learning processes should be supported, rather than the content being provided, which is the opposite of what happens in schools. Life learners / unschoolers are living like that with our children. And many of us were allowing children to do what comes naturally long before science proved it was the best way for kids to learn. I hope science can somehow, eventually, trump the vested financial interests of the education industry so all children can learn as Nature intended.

In a facebook group, one reader says:

Excellent article, Wendy. One thing you didn’t hit on as hard as you could have is closely related to the “learned helplessness” that comes from feeling a lack of control over one’s time and space and activities–but is a slightly different point. When kids (and adults!) feel put-upon by power that they view as illegitimate, they often actively resist learning whatever the power is teaching. To cooperate with, to open up to, to learn from the illegitimate power is to SIDE WITH that power. Therefore, learning academics is a way of turning against one’s own people, one’s family or community.

How many times have we read about the resistance from black youths assigned to classes taught by smug, power-tripping white teachers? I remember reading that Herb Kohl felt that his father’s family wasn’t being very kind when they spoke in Yiddish–because they were leaving out his mother (who didn’t speak the language). Kohl deliberately resisted learning the language himself–which is actually quite a challenge for a youngster, isn’t it?

Coerced attendance in public school is not remotely comparable to coerced labor within the institution of slavery–of course not–but we shouldn’t be surprised when students resist schoolwork, homework, and even learning. Both active and passive resistance are common in compulsory systems. Doing just enough to get a reward and avoid a punishment is actually the smart thing to do in such a system!

Wendy and I both agree that the comment above is fodder for another article, I’d like to see that written :)

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