Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Notes on the ways we learn...I presented a paper at an academic conference in Sweden in May. "Traditions in Transition" at Umeå Universitet was the first international conference on Sloyd and was attended by about 150 educators from 19 different countries. I felt a bit nervous presenting at an academic conference. After all, this was the first time I'd spent any time on a university campus since 1970 and I wondered how well I and my ideas would be accepted. In fact, one of my fellow attendees asked why I was associated with a small independent school rather than a university. Of course, my answer was, "what would I learn there?"

I knew from an examination of my own learning style that when I became interested in education, the only way for me to learn about it would be to teach. Theories are great when you have the opportunity to apply them, and have a means to test their accuracy and validity. Without the means to put words and work into the test of practical experience, they have no value to me. Nor should they have value quite so much value to others.

In 1983, Howard Gardner published his significant book, Frames of Mind, in which he rightly proposed that there are a variety of significant and important "intelligences" that aren't measured in the standardized testing, or acknowledged as valid in the educational system. Now, in American education, it would be difficult to get a degree in teaching without becoming aware of Howard Gardner's theories. The unfortunate situation, however, is that in order to get into the university to begin with, you need to be successful in the specific learning style and represent the particular "intelligence" that universities are designed to accept and encourage. Without the practical application and training to meet diverse learning styles in the university setting, Multiple Intelligences is a hollow concept. It has been proven that people tend to teach only in a manner that reflects their own learning style. As teachers rise through the system, becoming supervisors and administrators, they are filtered once again, further eliminating those whose intelligences are least represented in education.

With the advent of the No Child Left Behind legislation in the US, the pressures on teachers has been increased, and the likelihood of them being free to engage in experimentation in delivering lessons in various learning styles has been virtually eliminated.

But, my point is not to challenge NCLB legislation. It is a ridiculous mess of unfunded burden on teachers and schools but only part of a much larger problem. Instead, I challenge every American with a diploma. I ask you how we can make room in the universities for Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences, allowing credentials and acknowledgement to those outside the verbal linguistic realm and allowing them to take their places within our schools and educational institutions? I know this may be a hard thing for university educated people to take. You may have become comfortable resting on the security of your diploma while you may not even have the skills or understanding required to fix a leaking faucet.

Have I offended? Perhaps I've hit a nerve that requires thoughtful examination. I would suggest a reading of Mike Rose's book "The Mind at Work : Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker." It reminds us that there are many expressions of intelligence required in our modern civilization, and that each deserves admiration, encouragement and respect.

It should also be noted that there are many people within universities throughout the world that have come to understand the importance of diverse expressions of intelligence, are cognizant of the role of the hands in learning and are working to bring change. I was grateful that my presentation in May was warmly received at Umeå, and that I discovered so many new friends.

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