Friday, December 04, 2020

False Beliefs

It's not just possible, but likely, that for most of us, most of the time, we possess the necessary intelligence, but are hindered by a false belief. For instance, most physicists have given up on the reality of the existence of space and time, yet we've lived our entire lives convinced that spacetime exists. Indeed, we can't even conceive of it, any more than we can envision a color we've never seen before or a fragrance we've never smelt. 

It seems odd that we can't "see" something as fundamental as that, yet as cognitive psychologist and author Steven Pinkler writes, "Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness." Prior to Charles Darwin, natural selection itself was hidden from us by our false beliefs rather rather than our lack of intelligence.

The field of education is rife with false beliefs. We see it in our reliance on testing and grades, our knee-jerk belief in the incompetence of children and their need for our constant supervision and intervention. We see it in our expectation that children, simply by virtue of similar birth dates, can and will learn the same things at the same time via the same methods. And we see it in our reliance upon adult-created curriculum instead of their natural curiosity, which is how we've evolved to educate ourselves. We believe they must be controlled with walls and schedules, carrots and sticks for the first two decades of their lives lest they "turn out" to be fools, beasts, or some combination of both. We've created fantastical mythologies around children in which the heroes deploy the magic of "tough love" to tame them. There is an entire industry of experts who can teach you tricks to motivate them or otherwise manipulate them into learning or doing whatever you wish to impose on them "for their own good." Unlike our belief in spacetime, however, these false beliefs serve no one.

Some of us have seen beyond these false beliefs. You know you're one of them if you've seen through to the reality that children are fully formed people, competent, individual, curious, and self-motivated. You're a parent who is frustrated with homework or how little time your child is permitted to play outdoors. You're an educator who feels her best work is being done in the cracks and behind the backs of administrators who simple don't get it. We're considered subversive and renegade, which are, in fact, badges of good teaching and good parenting in a world ruled by false beliefs.

I've been writing here, almost daily, since 2009, trying to teach myself to be free from false beliefs. It's taken time, thought, research, and effort, all of which is documented right here on this blog. When I look back on some of my earlier work, I'm ashamed at how blind I was. I intend to keep going and hope that one day I'll look back on what I'm writing today and feel the same way. But I've seen enough of the reality behind our false beliefs to know that the notion of the incompetent child is as false as spacetime, even as we continue to strive to comprehend reality. 

I feel like some of us are getting closer to really understanding what it could mean to trust and respect children. If we could do that, we would have no choice but to concede that reality demands the same for all people. And we will have finally raised a generation capable of living in that reality.


Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in Australia and New Zealand as well as the US, Canada, the UK, Iceland, and Europe. And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well. 

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