Sunday, February 16, 2014

children have bodies...

Photo by Arshia Khan
Bodies are tools for learning. I know I repeat myself. Each breath is a repeat of my last. Last night I woke up from a most lovely dream. I was sleeping on a large porch, overlooking a small quiet street in a lovely community, and I felt at such peace, as though everything in the world was perfect in that moment.

I know many things in the waking world are not that way, and we have not allowed them to be that way, but what if that were the natural way of things and that all else that burdens the world is not the most natural course of human life?

I'm reading Ann Chodakowski and Kieran Egan's paper on "the body's role in our intellectual education." It appears they would agree with earlier observations from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries about how children best learn by doing real things. Even the bits of data that inhabit consciousness are timed and proportioned to the length of human breath, and thus to the body's capacity to exhale breath. No sentence that one would want another man or woman to understand should be longer than what can be said without stopping for breath. And that's about it.

We've chosen dull and empty, disembodied learning for our kids. Chodakowski and Kieran wrote of this as follows:
A strange task we have engaged with since we developed oral language involves our struggle to find ways of capturing and expressing in words our experiences and discoveries about the world. Yet, however quickly it may seem to be accumulating, our store of knowledge is pitifully small. One problem with much early schooling at the moment is that the world is presented to children as a kind of vast encyclopedia, of which they are learning the first elementary bits. In many classrooms, the child is situated as a novice being gradually inducted into our vast realm of knowledge. And, of course, this in part captures what early schooling is about. But “science,” for example, is frequently represented as a relatively prosaic accumulation of facts contained in textbooks, and the set of textbooks line up one after the other through to the final years of schooling, and then even bigger ones grind on through college years. The world, in short, is presented to the child as known, and, for the most part, as rather dull: interior opposite angles are congruent, and a thousand other such theorems, without much sense of their human meaning or importance, can weigh down the spirit during the early years of schooling. Where the wonders of math and science should live energetically and fruitfully in students’ minds these are, for many students today, vast and empty deserts.
Carl Sagan had noted the same problems in that instead of developing critical thinking skills, we hammer science in as though its a dead animal or worse. Hands-on learning, on the other hand, takes trust and imagination. Teachers must be trusted to engage children in lessons that cannot be canned and delivered through books. Even the most exciting forms of digital media fall short when it comes to the length, breadth, depth and weight of real things. Core curriculum and standardized assessment require standardization of lessons, of teaching and of teachers; hands-on learning demands the exact opposite.

On the same subject, one of my readers, JD, sent the following link, A very scary headline about Kindergartners. If educators were paying any attention at all to normal patterns of child development, they would know that in Finland, they wait to teach reading until the child is 8 years old and thence far surpass American children in reading by age 15 in 30% less time. Again, and again I am forced to repeat myself.
Let's not just hold our breath, shocking as things may be. Phrase your sentences to their best effect. Take a watchful vantage point from the front porch, but when you are at peace with things, and with your own body...

Make, fix, create, and help others to do likewise...

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