Instead of Teaching

suli-breaksLet me introduce you to Suli Breaks.

The man with the voice. The speaking voice. The voice of insight, perspective and wisdom. I’ll let him do the talking and I really, really hope that as many people as possible do the listening. With ears wide open.

Here’s a teaser: “If education is the key, then school is the lock. Because it really never develops your mind to the point where it can perceive red as green and continue to go when someone else said stop, because as long as you follow the rules and pass the exams, you’re cool. But are you aware that examiners have a checklist? And if your answer is something outside of the box, the automatic response is a cross, and then they claim that school expands your horizons and your visions. Well, tell that to Malcolm X, who dropped out of school and is world renowned for what he learned in a prison.”

After the videos, I will share some of my thoughts about schooling, education and learning.

There’s some interesting stuff in those videos, hey? I’d love some feedback on what you got out of these videos, what you feel challenged by, and where to from here….

They have caused quite a controversy in this well-schooled society of ours, where the emphasis on “getting a good education” is often interpreted to mean dependence on an educational institution. There seems to be an idea that without forced schooling, no one will learn, and our society will go backwards; yet some of our most brilliant minds and most successful entrepreneurs are “high school drop outs”.

I find it hard to believe that being told what to think, how to learn, and what will be on the test, is a particularly successful way to educate all the children in a society.

What is education, anyway? Is it something that is done to a person? Is it filling a void with enough information to ensure opportunities for future “success”?

Is the onus of education on the teacher, or the learner?

What does “teaching” really mean, anyway?

It seems, to me, that teaching is something that is done to a person, learning is something a person does for themselves. In the words of the very wise Joyce Fetteroll,

“Teaching is putting information in; learning is drawing information in.”

Even when someone thinks they are teaching someone something, they are never really in control of what the other person is actually learning. Someone could try to teach someone that 2 + 2 = 4 and the other person could be learning that the person thinks they are an idiot! A child could sit in a school classroom and be “taught” by the most highly regarded teacher, and yet learn nothing from the lesson at all. They may, for instance, learn that “I don’t have autonomy here” or “I suck at maths” or “What I really want to do is not respected” or they may learn something of what is being taught.

Imagine, for a moment, two children with the same IQ, sitting in the same classroom with the same teacher. Will they both learn the exact same things?

We are all learning, all the time. What we learn is up to us. When we are seeking knowledge, information and wisdom, we can source our information from all the ends of the earth; we do not need to make our first port of call a “teacher”. All those years we spent in school where the teacher was the expert set us up for a future where we do not trust in our own ability to learn, believing instead that we need to ask someone else to teach us.

When someone “teaches”, they are supposedly the “expert”, the one with the knowledge. The learner is the receptacle.

Should a teacher be judged by what a learner learns?
Should a learner be judged by how well a teacher teaches?

When a child’s head is stuffed full of the knowledge deemed important by our society’s current educational authorities, does it leave them hungry for more? Are they able to retain the knowledge after they spew out what went in?

When a child is given the freedom to be curious, to ponder, to investigate “just because”, they will learn. When they are free to ask questions rather than being forced to answer them, they are more likely to still be hungry for more, and to seek nourishment for their minds, rather than needing to shrivel up their natural thirst for answers to allow room for parroting the answers to other people’s questions.

In her book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook, Grace Llewellyn writes an introduction that in itself is worth the price of the entire book. She tells a story of a young girl living in a forest, hungry for the beautiful fruit on the tree that is just out of reach. She longs for the day she can reach the fruit, and in the meantime enjoys all that she can discover on the forest floor. One day she is taken to a big ugly grey building by a man who tells her they will teach her how to reach the fruit. What she is fed there ruins her appetite for the real thing, and when she is finally able to reach the fruit, she no longer wants it.

As a mother of unschooled children, I am delighted that they enjoy the freedom to pursue what interests them, rather than spending their childhood sitting in a classroom with the masses of other children, all being taught the same things and all having to regurgitate it back on the same tests. It brings me so much joy to support my children in their interests. To honour their passion. To delight in the flow of their days. To take them to interesting places. To provide resources that are inspiring. To help them find the answers to the questions that keep on coming. To watch with wonder as I see them quench their thirst for knowledge, only to wake up the next day thirsty for more. It is a bit like drinking from an eternal fountain that never runs dry, and always leaves you wanting for more.

So instead of teaching, I show, introduce, discuss, facilitate, strew, provide, take, support, and partner with my children in their learning journey. It’s a wonderful life!

N.B. I have total respect for the hard work of passionate teachers. My post is about questioning the system, and looking beyond teaching, to the joy of learning, and hopefully empowering people to trust in their own natural ability to learn, rather than assuming they always need someone to “teach them”.

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