Saturday, March 16, 2013

tic, toc part II

The opportunity cost of our current system of education is that as we put increasing amounts of pressure on reading, writing and arithmetic, the vast range of human intelligence is narrowed, and children feel far less competent in dealing with the real world. Those who simply mature at a slower pace, are given the impression that they are impaired in various ways, and are led to believe they will always be so. Some children may begin walking at 7 months and some as late as 13 and pediatricians warn that parents should not take such signs as predictive of ultimate intellectual, physical or emotional potential. Despite knowing that the range of various markers of child development widen rather than narrow in time as children grow and mature, children  in schools are put in classes where they go through drills arranged for the convenience of the teachers and administration, often with too little regard for the learning needs of each individual child.

Otto Salomon distinguished between class teaching and individualized instruction, and that evidently was a point of contention between the followers of Sloyd vs. those of the Russian system which insisted upon classroom instruction as a matter of efficiency. And yet, if you can once get it in your head that we are not all the same, that the timing of our development has very little to do with our ultimate capacities, you can see that as we go through classroom instruction we are led to miscalculate our own strengths, weaknesses and potentials. Those miscalculations may be great as a sorting mechanism, sending some students to academia and some to the trades, but they are a vast distortion of overall human potential, which is often squandered in our current system of public education.

In public education, reading is the big thing. Once children are convinced that reading is difficult for them, huge amounts of school time and money are spent to overcome the challenges of those children not reading at grade level, but there is a huge amount of evidence that when the time is simply right, children will teach themselves to read. The following is from Peter Gray, PhD.:
For children in standard schools, it is very important to learn to read on schedule, by the timetable dictated by the school. If you fall behind you will be unable to keep up with the rest of the curriculum and may be labeled as a "failure," or as someone who should repeat a grade, or as a person with some sort of mental handicap. In standard schools learning to read is the key to all of the rest of learning. First you "learn to read" and then you "read to learn." Without knowing how to read you can't learn much of the rest of the curriculum, because so much of it is presented through the written word. There is even evidence that failure to learn to read on schedule predicts subsequent naughtiness in standard schools.
In contrast, the experience of those in the unschooling movement suggests that left to their own devices, children just simply read when they are ready for it. After all, the opportunities to read are ever present, and the inclination to learn everything children are able to learn from the natural environment is innate. And so, put into a more rational mind, schools, liberated from their sorting process, allowed once more to treat each child as the unique individual he or she is, could return to other more interesting things.

On another note, Abigail, director at Elliot School in Jamaica Plaines, MA sent this link to ann article about the upcoming Folk School movement. If you are not in any way a maker, then you are missing out on a very special quality of our humanity.

Make, fix and create...


  1. A facinating idea, that reading shouldn't necessarily be the first thing to learn.

    I know that in our local school, they start teaching math before the letters, because most of the children can already count up to 10. That means every child is able to participate, and the subject isn't blurry and strange like a letter from the alphabet.

    They then start learning about the different letters, one at the time. They have a small folder, where they will get a copied piece of paper with the letter, and an accompanying drawing to match, They can then bring something to the school during the week, that starts with this letter. The other children shall then try to guess what it is.
    Then after 7 months, they have started reading.

  2. Jonas, I certainly don't want to imply that all teachers in the US are insensitive to their children 's developmental needs, or that all are screwed up in their teaching of reading.

    It sounds like your children in Denmark go to a fine school. I've enjoyed seeing the tool chest you are making on your blog.

    Thanks for sharing that.

  3. I wonder. Is there any research on how reading to kids when they're very young affects when they learn how to read for themselves?


  4. Mario, the success of the HIPPY reading program

    tells us that reading to kids is one of the most important things parents can do to encourage them to become readers. They offer research to back it up. Also, it seems that reading parents have reading kids, a transfer that seems to come from role modelling. I was talking to my sister last night who is a reading specialist in Nebraska public schools. She is in agreement that pushing kids too forcefully into reading at too young an age creates resistance to reading that is extremely difficult to overcome by the time they reach middle school.

    Reading can be a very complicated issue, and I'm not trying to oversimplify things. But the experience in Finland concerning reading should be telling us a few things. Don't ever stop kids from reading, and don't force them either. Reading and reading well can come naturally and without effort for most kids.

  5. If my sons are any indication, reading parents really do encourage their kids to be readers. My older son's books are in the room right above me right now, and I kid him about my worries that it could collapse the house.