Friday, August 28, 2020

"Just In Time" Education

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same
There's a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

                   ~Malvina Reynolds

One of the theories underpinning "normal" education is that children need a "foundation" upon which to build future learning. Indeed, that's pretty much what the first 18 years is all about for most kids: memorizing the stuff they're going to need to have memorized in order to memorize the stuff they're going to need to memorize for next year, and so on, until they are released into the world, their foundations finally ready to support their "little boxes." Of course, it's not entirely like that. Some more progressive teachers might allow the children to write their papers on "any topic you chose" or "read any book you want (unless it's a comic book)," but they are largely constrained by the blueprint curriculum that they've been issued for constructing foundations so that those little boxes will turn out "all the same." 

It's a theory that starts with the idea that the adults, in their wisdom and superior soothsaying about the future, can predict what every child will need, as if there is a common body of knowledge that all children, no matter their interests, aptitudes, background, culture, or developmental stage, must know in order to move forward in life. We argued that they must be "well rounded." We say we are preparing them for the "jobs of tomorrow." We warn they are "falling behind" when the foundation for their little box is not the same as all the others. We tell them they are wrong when they, say, aspire to anything other than an out-of-the-box foundation for their future little box. After all, some day we will allow you to pick any color of paint for your box, as long as it's pink, green, blue, or yellow.

It's a theory that assumes that adults, especially the adults who write and approve curricula, adults who have never met the individual children in question, know best about not only what this foundation for the future should look like, but how it should be constructed. It's a theory that relies upon the dehumanizing metaphors of assembly-line manufacturing. 

Adults have a long, long, long history of being poor predictors of the future. Indeed, they are always wrong about the "jobs of tomorrow." It's today's five-year-olds who will be inventing those jobs of tomorrow long after we adults have left the stage, shaking our heads in befuddlement over what the world has become. There is no way for us to know what kind of foundation children need, yet we persist in forcing a standardized one on them whether they plan to build little boxes, all the same, or not.

Self-directed education, or play-based education as we call it in the early years, frees children to build their own foundations, not based not upon the guesswork of adults who know nothing about them other than their age, but rather according to their immediate needs. Instead of spending their days being filled up with random trivia that may or may not be useful in the future, they are free to develop, through their own initiative, the knowledge and skills they need right now in order to accomplish their self-selected inquiry. It's "just in time" education, with children learning what they need to learn, exactly when they need to learn it, not because some adult is dangling a carrot or wielding a stick, but because they are self-motivated. It's about learning, not memorizing. One never need "test" children who learn in this way because the learning is self-evident. We see them demonstrating their learning, on the spot, in real time, then moving on to the next thing they need to learn as they follow their own curiosity, building their own unique and quirky foundation.

And this is the sort of foundation that every human deserves to create for themself, not just for the future, but for right now: one built through self-motivation and curiosity, rather than according the dictates of tract housing destined to be painted in pastel hues, all the same. 


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