Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Meaningful Setting

Education is a private matter between the person and the world of knowledge and experience, and has little to do with school or college. ~Lillian Smith

The factory model of education, the one that seeks to make an assembly line of learning, presumes that similarly aged children, if exposed to the same lectures, worksheets, and exercises, will emerge at the end possessing the pre-determined skills and knowledge. In this concept of school, the adults in charge start by deciding what they want the children to know, by when, and according to what methods, then the children are brought in to be subjected to those manufactory pressures in the expectation that they will emerge "educated."

The great flaw in this concept, of course, is that education is like fingerprints or snowflakes, no two of us are alike in how or what we learn. No matter how systematic, rigorous, or standardized the curriculum no two turn out the same. That is the power of the education instinct at work, it can transcend most things we do to it, but that doesn't mean we aren't stunting, perverting, and even crippling it when we deprive it of the freedom it needs to flourish.

Real education starts with the individual who must begin not with what others want her to know, but rather with what she wants to know. A free human then sets out to answer those questions through his own unique process of exploration, experiment, and discovery. Given this, a good argument can be made for eliminating schools altogether, one with which I sympathize, even as I spend my days as a teacher in a "school."

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. ~Ivan Illich

I often feel that as a teacher in a play-based school, one in which we strive to follow the lead of the children as their education instinct expresses itself, my workday is largely comprised of the time I spend there before the children arrive. I don't fret over what, when or how children are going to learn, but rather on preparing a meaningful setting in which children can explore, experiment, and discover the answers to their own questions. Adults, of course, are part of this meaningful setting, but we are not "teachers" in the conventional sense. We are more properly called facilitators and safety officers, there to help the children, minimally, when they need it and to deal with true hazards like shards of broken glass, jagged edges of rusty metal, sharp blades, and nefarious strangers (as opposed to just repeatedly cautioning, "Be careful!")

Once the children are on the scene, the most important element in a "meaningful setting," my job becomes standing back, watching, listening, loitering with intent, but otherwise leaving their play as unhampered as humanly possible, because this is the only way that education has ever really happened.

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