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