28 May 2009

Love & Learning

Everywhere, we learn best from those whom we love."
- Goethe

Bernard was sipping something.

"What are you drinking" I asked.

"Green tea," he said with an excited grin. "Do you know about this? It's supposed to be really good for your heart."

"You just getting around to reading old periodicals, Bernard?"


"Never mind," I waved my hand. "Green tea sounds good. Can I get you anything else?"

"It's kind of bland," he volunteered. "I had to put about six packets of sugar in it."

I got a green tea and a scone and sat back down. "Hey Bernard," I queried, "What do you make of all this talk about education reform?"

"Ha! Those will never work. All the ideas start with the system as it is."

"You just know this? That the education reforms will not work?"

"Sure. It's obvious," he blinked. "I mean, they think that education has to do with the head."

"It doesn't?"

"We always underestimate the importance of love in learning. We think that learning starts and ends with the head but the head is almost incidental. Learning starts with a condition of the heart."

"But by heart you mean hypothalamus, the seat of emotions, so really you are talking about the head."

"Don't mask your ignorance by spouting trivia," Bernard scowled.

"Sorry," I bent my head and sipped my tea.

"If a person doesn't feel loved, doesn't feel safe, they're not going to open up. If they don't open up" Bernard spread his hands flat, "no learning."

"So how do you make a child feel loved when teachers can get fired just for touching a child?"

"You give them space to be heard. Rather than grade their efforts to learn, you encourage them. You accept them. People who are judged on every move, every test, every action, become guarded, become careful. As children become more self-conscious and more careful, they learn more slowly. The emphasis shifts to avoiding mistakes rather than trying something new - the essence of learning."

"So what do you do? I mean, practically speaking. What does this suggest?"

"The first step would be to stop grading."

"You really think that's a habit schools can give up?"

"You either make children feel safe or you make them feel judged. It all depends on whether schools want to encourage learning or encourage defensiveness. You can't have both."

“But you need some kind of feedback. Kids can’t just float free.”

“Right!” Bernard nodded enthusiastically. “Feedback on their progress towards learning, towards mastery. The point is not to grade children on differences – probably many of them that are innate and defy techniques to change them. The point is to let all the children become proficient in what they need and what they have potential for. You don’t give them a C instead of an A. You give them more time, or use a different approach. Or even steer them in a new direction. Children need feedback, which is very different from being judged.”

I laughed. "Well, I'm sure that the kids would love not being graded."

Bernard smiled as he stole the rest of my scone. "The love has to start somewhere."


Gypsy at Heart said...

"If a person doesn't feel loved and safe they are not going to open up..."

There's a reason why little children soak up information as sponges and why the older we grow, the more the learning process decelerates. It has to do with all of the fear baggage and the limits others would have us believe we have reached.

The problem is that we must all conform to a common denominator and some people just don't fit into common denominator molds. When that happens you run the big risk of falling by the wayside, your particular talents ignored because they are not part of the "known or accepted" talent list. That's a byproduct of the learning chain and of tired or closed off teaching minds.

I try everyday to validate my child's unique talents. I know they are unique because he is MY CHILD. The problem is that he will constantly be gauged against other kids his same age and with an expected set of knowledge for whichever particular age bracket he is in. There really is no way around that is there?

I liked this post Ron and I couldn't agree more with Bernard. As ever he is a sage.

Sandi said...

Yup... Where I teach, the report card grades corrilate almost exactly to the amount of love and safety the child has experienced. Academics are the last thing on the mind of a child in survival mode, or maybe don't even make it on their menu of life! Many of them even had a rough time in the "supposed safety" of the womb too. Maybe grades are more the child's feedback to the world on how this little one has experienced the world so far!

Jen aka Pinky said...

Bernard must have attended a montessori school. ;-)

I think it's a brilliant approach to education. Sure wish I could afford it for my kids.

Unschooling is excellent, too.

sure wish I had the patience to homeschool!!