Sunday, August 26, 2012

second hand

When we learn through our own senses (all of them), we learn thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect. When we learn simply through instruction, without the opportunity to engage all the senses, failing thus to test by hand what we have been told, we say we are learning "second-hand," and thus the language of the hand describes the learning environment and the process through which something has been learned. Second-hand learning is known to be unreliable at best.

On the other hand, when we say something has been learned "hands-on", we know that all the senses have been engaged. And so, hands-on learning is not just about the hands, but about the whole person, the whole child, first person, most deeply engaged in the process of education. We call ourselves men, (or women), members of mankind, and the word man, and men is inseparably entwined in the Latin phrase, mens et manus mind and hand. We would not be men or women in the deepest and most elegant sense of the term without hands to complete our sensory engagement with learning, life and reality.

Dr. Peggy Drexler, in an article in Psychology Today,The Key to Raising Confident Kids? Stop Complimenting Them! suggests that we've been doing damage to our children by offering too many false compliments. The answer of course is to allow them to do real things, engaging all the senses, at which they can fail and succeed and gain a real sense of self-accomplishment and hard earned self-esteem rather than false meaningless compliments which come second hand. Dr. Drexler notes:
We see how praising kids sets them up for a world that's almost never as generous. For kids who've spent their lives being celebrated for, say, tying their own shoes, failure can be devastating. In a recent New York magazine article, 27-year-old Lael Goodman said, "The worst thing is that I've always gotten self-worth from performance, especially good grades. But now that I can't get a job, I feel worthless." And this guy's an adult; it's even worse for an actual child. What's more, by focusing too much on how we can build our kids' self-esteem and confidence, we're overlooking teaching them what real achievement means -- and depriving them of knowing what it's like to feel the satisfaction of setting a high goal, working hard, and achieving it. When we place more emphasis on the reward than the process of learning or doing -- whether it's an algebra problem or hitting a fly ball -- kids inevitably focus more on the reward. They stop learning how to spell because it's a benchmark for learning (and necessary); they learn it for the trophy and ice cream party that follows.
When kids work with real materials, the materials don't lie, or make things up to reinforce the child's self esteem. When a kid cuts wood and tries to fit parts together, there are no compliments that will adjust the wood for a poor fit. There is an honesty in working with the hands for which there is no substitute.

Here in the US, the argument about the status of our schools continues. It appears that the inclination to blame teachers is winning the day. But poverty, and the amount of time children live in poverty is the clear culprit in our failure relative to high performing countries in the PISA testing. This article, The emotional appeal for blaming teachers, helps describe the situation.

Make, fix and create...


  1. I don't agree completetly to that we should not praise our children.
    If we don't tell them if they have done something good, how should they know?
    Off course the same thing goes if they do something bad, this shouldn't go unnoticed as well.

    I am very sceptic when it comes to those "unscientific" subjects as e.g. psychology.
    I "sadly" have the opinion, that very often those persons claiming things like that, Just need to create their own five minutes of fame. And by making a statement that includes the upbringing of children, you target an enormous amount of people. And therfore your study or message is getting more attention, than if it relates to something a little narrower like: People who like to talk to their car.

    I do agree that there is an honesty in working with real materials. But I don't see why one should not complement the child who has achieved a goal.

    I once learned at a course, that a different way of offering praise is to let the receiver of the praise take ownership of it.
    So instead of telling my son that he has done a good job sanding a piece of wood, I should instead ask him: What did you do to make this piece of wood so nice and smooth. That will force him to reflect over what he has done, and therefore it will settle deeper in him. (I hope it makes sense)

    Brgds Jonas

  2. Jonas, I agree that it is good to compliment your child and celebrate his accomplishments, but here in the US, folks have become so worried about self-esteem that they get carried away, and neglect to give the children real things to measure themselves against and gain real self-esteem.

    My daughter is in grad school and noted that some of her students in the class in which she was a teaching assistant had a sense of entitlement. They had always gotten good grades without ever having to actually work for them, and assumed that they were entitled to good grades at university as well.

    I like the approach you use with your son, reflecting on what he has done, and letting him know that you've noticed. That is a more effective way of handling things than any other kind of compliment you could offer.

  3. I didn't notice the part regarding blaming teachers and the PISA testing.
    It is always very easy to blame the teachers even if it is not correct. So I guess that won't change for the next century or more.
    But regarding the PISA testing, coming from a country that scores very poorly in those tests. My opinion is that the tests are designed for one type of school system, so schools where they have to learn a lot of thing by heart, normally scores pretty well in those tests.
    In other countries such as in Denmark, a lot more focus is put into teaching the children how to work in a group, how to actively relate to a problem by searching for a posible solution etc. All those things that dont have just one correct answer.
    The PISA tests can't measure those things. but it can measure how many of the children in 4th grade who knows right here and now on what date WWI ended.
    It does not allow for the children to seek for the information, which I find is a better skill to have.
    So don't despair if the children of USA don't get good points in PISA tests.