Friday, January 08, 2016

what we know...

Those who study and have studied child development will tell you that children's bodies, muscular capacities, and minds grow and develop within  a range of what is termed "normal." For instance, and as I've mentioned many times before, if your child walks at 10 months your pediatrician will say that it's normal and not to worry (and that no particular genius is assured). If your child walks at 14 or 16 months the very same pediatrician will tell you, that too, is very normal. In fact, I can give the names of children who chose not to walk until as late as 18-24 months whose development and intelligence, and physical capacities are well within the upper side of the normal range. But when it comes to schooling, we put kids in classes and expect them to read on a clock and panic when they are not performing at "grade level."

I raise a toast to late bloomers, may we all unite against the stupidity* of American education!!!

A couple days ago, I mentioned Piage's theory of stages in child development. Student performance is in part controlled by the body/mind's capacity to engage in concrete vs. abstract learning. But the truly stupid thing is that kids are moved up or behind in class, and assumed to be stupid or smart (or are led to make the same wrongful assumptions of themselves) when there are simple developmental differences having to do with the rate of growth from level to level. For instance, the formal operational stage is not a thing all children reach automatically and magically at age 11, as though hands on a clock. Instead, it comes between the ages of 11-15, a four year span of time during which some students would inevitably be labeled by the Procrustean bed of public education as intellectually inept. If the range of walking can extend nearly a year or more, how can we possibly assume putting academic pressures to learn on children as early as third grade should be considered anything but an outrage and a crime?

This is not to say that children should not be encouraged to learn at whatever rate their current capacity might allow.  But one must never assume that any particular child might not completely surprise you with both their character and intelligence and at any time, given a reasonable chance at it. Schooling at its best (and in order to do less harm than good) must be structured to allow not only for differences in learning style, but also to accommodate variations in the developmental process.

As you noticed from yesterday's post, I have been reading Henry David Thoreau's Walden. I have to wonder why people were so smart in the 19th century and so vacuous today. Can it be that they had slightly less to think about, and so gave what they had deeper thought? And that by giving things more thought, and deeper thought, were more thoughtful and reflective about their own lives, the lives of others and the world they lived within?

It might be worth slowing down to find out. And one sure way to do that is to craft something (with your own hands) beautiful and useful, that might become treasured for a lifetime.

*Please forgive me for being so blunt. There are 39 easy-to-find synonyms for the word stupid, and I could have been more creative and perhaps less strident had I but chosen online resources to do so. I know that in speaking so bluntly I may appear both snobbish and insulting to some. But buck up and bear with. My use of the word stupid in relation to education is no more unpleasant than what hands-on learners have long suffered and endured under the oppressive grip of being "'schooled."

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School yesterday, 7th and 8th grade students worked on box guitars, some building the bodies and some moving on to shape the necks.

In the image above, one can see that schools were not always what they are today. I take the personal risk of your disfavor by insisting that things may have gotten worse.

In one of Piaget's tests having to do with the formal operational stage, students were asked, that if they had a third eye, where would it best (and most usefully) be placed on their bodies? Students still in the concrete operational stage usually suggested at the center of the forehead. In contrast, a student in the formal operational stage, suggested it be located in the hand so that he could use it see around corners. In a sense, the hands already offer a perspective of reality that has come to be wrongly and ruthlessly ignored in schooling. Hands do see around corners and under things in ways modern educators have become stupid about.

Make, fix, create and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

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