Thursday, October 13, 2022

More Advanced And More Relevant Than Anything Taught In Normal Schools

A child fell and bumped her head hard enough that we decided to apply an ice pack. I fetched one of those single-use gel packs that one activates by squeezing it in the middle until the internal bag pops and the chemicals mix. I had left one of our parent-teachers at the scene with the crying child. Being first aid certified, I was going to take charge of matters, before remembering that this particular parent-teacher was, in her real life, an actual medical doctor, so I naturally deferred, handing her the ice pack. She wrestled with it for a couple minutes before handing it back to me sheepishly, saying, "The nurses usually do this."

I don't share this story to shame her, but rather to point out that doctors rely upon nurses. The knowledge and abilities of the two professions naturally overlap, but each is characterized by distinct set of complimentary expertise: together they heal, cure, and save lives. Of course, both doctors and nurses also rely upon a whole host of other people to get their jobs done, from educators and administrators to technicians, orderlies and custodians. No one does it alone.

Normal schooling tends to be about teaching everyone the same thing at the same time. Everyone is taught the same math, the same science, the same history, and then they are tested and graded on how well they've learned it. And under no circumstances should we peek over another person's shoulder. That's called cheating and is the worst thing you can do. 

This focus on individual silos of knowledge, however, disappears in the real world. The world beyond school is a place where solving problems relies upon collective knowledge, people coming together to contribute their unique expertise to make an enterprise work. When a new bridge is needed, we don't call together a team comprised only of engineers, people with the same skill set, to get the job done. No, we must also include contractors, geologists, and other suppliers of all sorts in order to actually get that bridge built, each contributing to the completion of the whole.

And the real world demands more than just knowledge. It requires the ability to work well with other people, cooperating, and sharing. Traditional schooling, with its focus on competition for grades and eyes-on-your-own-work, tend to discourage the development of these essential skills, focusing instead on the hoarding of knowledge like one might a commodity.

If the purpose of schools is to prepare children for the real world, it seems we're going about it all wrong.

I know virtually nothing about dinosaurs, but I don't need to because the children, among them, know everything they collectively need to know. When the subject comes up, and it comes up often in preschool classrooms, the children share what they know, building upon one another's knowledge, disagreeing, discussing. We use words like carnivores and herbivores, we know their Latin names, we discuss concepts like extinction and evolution, and eras like Jurassic and Cretaceous. Some of us embody dinosaurs, acting out their behaviors, moving our bodies, and using our voices to bring concepts to life. Others ask questions, encouraging us to probe deeper. Some merely listen, absorbing knowledge that they can then share with other children in other places, each of them bringing their own knowledge and abilities to the table to cobble together a perfectly age-appropriate curriculum, both more advanced and more relevant than anything taught in normal schools.

This is the way the real world works: this is how play-based education works. We come together around projects and ideas, working together for the benefit of everyone. What I know and what you know come together as what we know. And from there we create our world.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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