“Do we trust our kids?”

I’ve been struck by two observations lately:

One is the Facebook post about teachers and education in Finland.  It’s not just the part about the teachers being paid like doctors, and they don’t use standardized testing.  Rather, I was struck by this:  Recess is ONE HOUR!

When you think about it, at least in my own growing up, teachers distrusted the students.  Thus, they gave the students a recess lasting 15 minutes.  We were just getting overheated — and we had to come back in and sit still on hard, wooden chairs.  The expectation for education at that point was — zero!

When you think about it, the problem was:  The teachers didn’t trust the students. They thought we just wanted to waste time.  That’s why we got only a brief recess.  It’s also why on steamy, hot days in a school that had no air-conditioning, when the teachers finally gave us a break and let us dreary with heat & humidity get a drink of water, they had a student control the drinking fountain — and gave us only a three-count.  All you could drink in three seconds — then back to the hard, wooden chairs and stifling classroom.

Again, the teachers didn’t trust the students.  They thought we would waste time — taking too long to get a drink, drinking too much, etc.

Perhaps all the worse, “education” consisted in merely giving us information, writing it in on the board — rules of grammar, dates & names in history, etc. — and then testing us at the end of the week.

We rarely had to THINK.  All we had to do was — memorize.

Now, this gets to the second observation I’ve noted lately.  A young couple whose wedding I officiated some years ago had their first baby — a girl.  She is now nearing her first birthday.  I have been struck by the photos on Facebook of how WIDE her eyes are.  Everything she sees, everything she touches, playing with toys, playing with the cat…This child is AMAZED at life.

What will she experience in school?  Will her education be a dumbing down of life to a mere feeding of information to her, and then testing to see how much she can retain?

I’ve heard it said that kids are natural-born scientists:  always checking things out, always experimenting with taste and touch, delighted by cause & reaction.  That’s the way this little girl acts.  And yet once kids get to school, how many hate science as a subject?

I was researching a book that I was writing some years ago — on the dumbing down of science through “intelligent design.”  I had the chance to interview one of the nation’s renowned scientists.  He’s a paleontologist at California–Berkeley.  Dr. Kevin Padian told me, when he was in school, he HATED science.  “Why did I need to know what species a crab belonged to?”

The problem, it seems to me, is that our education system is set up primarily to give information  — rather than to encourage thinking.  How much time is spent feeding the students information rather than posing a problem and seeing if they can resolve it?

I mean, how important is it that kid memorize the signs of the elements from the Periodic Table?  Much more important (and fun) is to be allowed to experiment  and observe what elements DO.  I remember being astounded in high school when the science teacher showed us an element that caught fire if it touched water.   Fascination with the elements will result in a child’s WANTING to know the symbol on the Periodic Table.

Most learning it seems to me occurs on one’s own time.  A kid gets fired up for something.  Nobody is assigning the Harry Potter books.  Kids are reading them on their own.

It seems that the best education is to energize kids about something.  They’ll take it from there.

Or do we assume they’ll just waste time?  Again, it’s a matter of trust.


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