Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why Haven't School Reforms Worked?

When our eldest was four and at Kindergarten I read two books by John Holt - 'How Children Fail' and 'How Children Learn'. These were written in the 60s, at a time when I was in primary school. Holt wrote about his experiences as a teacher - what worked and what didn't work. It was his ability to self-reflect and evaluate his own learning processes that resonated with me. Instead of simply teaching, he was passionate about how and why his students learned, or didn't learn. Those two books were packed with tips and insights into how children think and respond. Holt approached the children with respect and trusted that they could learn, that problems could be resolved.

What surprised me was that despite the efforts of school reformers, who began criticising the institution of school since the inception of compulsory mass schooling, what happens in the classroom hadn't altered much. As a student I enjoyed 'new maths', weird classroom furniture, and the 'open classroom' experiment of the 70s, but ultimately what sucked most about school was the attitude that children are like blank slates - they need to be taught to think, how to think, and how to learn. It's an insult. A vast dumbing down of whole generations.

I know that teachers now, by and large, think of children as learning partners, responsible for their own learning, but the way schools are set up, it is really hard for them to implement respectful learning programs. As home educators we have the advantage of lots of space, access to lots of resources per student, and lots of time. All we need to do is respect the child as a human being, not some 'unfinished' human product, know that the child was born capable of learning and thinking, and trust that if we get out of their way with our limiting behaviours and thoughts, he or she will simply get on with the job of learning with relative ease and enthusiasm.

© Beverley Paine

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