Monday, January 11, 2010

I hate learning...

Shawn had bounced back and forth between schools, not finding a suitable fit. In the wood shop, he would have worked hours on the lathe but he could hardly wait to escape school. Outside of school he was producing his own video. He was master of a wide range of computer games. In a fit of frustration he informed me, "I hate learning." But I knew he just didn't like being taught. Self-directed learning is instinctive, natural and one of the most basic, unavoidable, hard-wired components of our humanity. It provides pleasure that can engage one endless hours to the point of exhaustion while also laying the foundations of community and cultural growth. Put a guitar in a young man's hands and watch what happens. Put a young man in a classroom and watch him watch the clock. When the bell rings, watch his escape. Are these circumstances telling us something?

There is something that happens when we create structured learning environments, forcing a young man's or a young woman's hands to stillness. It isn't good. Still the hands, stifle the spirit.

Procrustes was a Greek monster whose guest bed would fit each guest perfectly though you would not have wanted to be invited overnight. The bed was equipped to chop off the feet of those who were too long, and with rack and chains to stretch those who were too short. Years ago, when I had my first job working with kids at a children's center in Memphis, my supervisor John, told me the story of Procrustes as an allegory related to what happens in schools. Is Procrustes just a myth? Or does the story really fit in the most unfortunate sense? Can we take steps that encourage self-directed learning and further engage a child's natural passion for learning and for growth? How do we do that? It isn't always easy. We're working on it.


  1. Wasn't he a school Principal? Sorry, couldn't resist the temptation.

    You can't examine the whole world, of course, but in chatting with people all over the world, it seems to me, that young people in foreign lands "get" education better than USA kids. Many of them sound like they would thrive and excell, if they had the resources we do. I wonder if being able to "see" the necessity of a good education is one thing most kids miss, both in our modern homes, as well as, school.

    Yes, I understand I am not always chatting with the average native of other lands, but particularly in the Philippines, I have chatted with young people who see their future life outcomes depend on the education they get. I think that has virtually disappeared here despite being true also in the USA.

  2. Now THAT's why I spent four years staring out the window during the sixties while some very determined teachers tried to get me ready for university!

    Absolutely agree; only problem arises when you try to get credit for what you know,in a world where accreditation rules, where teaching masters have been replaced by teachers WITH a masters (community colleges, where learning is a commercial product.