Tearing it apart to confuse the kids. By David Reid Otey

I teach for a living. I’ve been at it for twenty years. I love it. I have an unusual special education class. I know I am fortunate. Throughout all these years I have been studying the process of education, of how we really learn the best, through personal  experience and repeated questions and possible answers from my own mind. The basic operation being used in most cases and most places, from what I see, no matter how the package is relabeled and redefined on paper, is an unfortunate simple process of breaking things down and presenting various modes of repetition for fact memory. In a best situation there will be the hands on projects where students actually create–not simply duplicate–to understand and have ownership of a process.

I tutored for two summers, meeting my two girl students in the local library. We each had to travel half an hour from opposite sides of the library’s town. I was determined that they receive more than just ”the same old same old” routine from their class rooms. I decided upon building their confidence in themselves first and foremost, to get that most important foundation built much stronger than it was. I knew their current math and reading challenges came from a weak beginning understanding of their own inner powers of learning. Each of their first tutoring sessions went like this.

I said, ” The first thing you need to know and believe is that you already have a ton of knowledge/information inside your brain. You are much smarter than you think you are. It shows in your eyes. Smart people can never hide their intelligence if someone can look in their eyes. You’ve seen people who you know are not very smart. You look in their eyes and you can even see their limits. But you have the look of a smart kid. So, you are smart. If it were possible to hook your brain up to a typing machine and to type a copy of everything you know right now, typing it all on both sides of each sheet of typing paper, and then stacking all of those papers neatly on the library floor, this library would be stuffed with those papers clear against all the walls and up against the ceilings and the doors such that no one would be able to get in. There would be no place to stand. No room for anything else at all.”  At this point they look around the room, look at me and smile, and sometimes say, “really?”.

I say, “Yes, and you already know the answers to 90% of what you are going to have in math next year, and probably in science and social studies and even in reading, if you happen to like to read.”  Then I explain what happens from the beginning.

When you are born your mind begins instantly to take in information of all kinds without judgement, without refusing any of it, without any resistance at all. You will no doubt complain about some things and cry at what hurts. Your spirit bonds with your mind and your body through this process of ”taking it all in”. Before you ever set foot in a school you have already had practical real life,  hands-on, creative, reflective experiences. You have observed, wondered, planned, experimented and discovered results and made new plans based on discoveries from the past attempts. You know land marks and how to get around your town. You know the architectural designs and differences of the homes of your family and friends and some of there buildings in town. You already understand elements of art and music and social skills. You understand psychology through interaction. You understand history by personal experience. You have experience in nutrition, in ethnic foods, in classifications of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and dairy and other groups such as spices and herbs. You understand language, listening, reading, speaking and even some writing. It is really amazing what your mind has absorbed and experienced and acted upon in such a short time.

Then you walk into school where they tear it all part. All that knowledge you have is shown back to you in pieces, totally discombobulated, dislocated, shredded, mangled,  renamed, hidden from its connecting pieces that make sense of it all, suddenly becoming mysterious. Yet, after awhile, your brain tells you that you are familiar with this. There is something about it that you ”feel”. So you open your mouth and say what’s on your mind. The teacher, however, has a ”plan” to follow and your information cannot come out too soon. It might ”confuse” everyone else. So the teacher says, “Just hold that thought. We’ll be getting to that soon.” That means maybe by the end of the week or more likely not until next week.  Soon you feel dumb, stupid, and bored because, after all, your brain knows very well that this is old news being regurgitated. It’s also being forcefully applied by an unnatural formula unrelated to how the real world works. This begins your downfall. This is why you end up not even trying to ”get it” because you feel like you never had it and never will.  Now you are left with trying to survive with some speck of self-respect and self-confidence, to prove you belong somewhere important in the school. You have by then accepted the school’s definition of what a smart kid is and how a smart kid acts. You lose your own self-definition and give in to the status quo. The last thing I do is begin the process of showing them how to use the ”pieces” to bring in the whole of what they’ve known all along so that they can truly add knowledge without the torture of having to go backwards and redefine the meaning of what they’ve lived.

I have a neighbor who understands this idea very well. She home schools her boys and she makes them use ‘what they know, to figure out at least some part of what is needed to add on. When they do the process of discovery on their own instead of being shown every little piece, they like it better, learn more, remember more from creating with it. In short, she teaches them to teach themselves, to carry on the torch of never stopping improving their knowledge of themselves and the world.  End

 

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