By Mrs. Sonal Ahuja
Founder, House Of Learning
A common conversation between a parent and a child, when the child returns from the school is usually along these lines :
Parent : “How was your day?”
Child : “Good”
Parent : “What did you do today? “
Child : “Nothing”
Parent : “Why?”
The Child is speechless.
Parent : “Ok Tell me how was your test?”
Child : “Went off good”
Parent : “How much do you think you will score?”
Child : “Don’t know”. And leaves.
How many of us can relate to this sequence of event ; most of us !
‘Learning’ to us, in a way is defined as something that can be measured.
The problem is that it is way too hard to state exactly “What learning is”? Or “how it happens”?
Learning as a psychological activity is something truly difficult to get a handle on. We know very little about the process. There are a lot of theories, but none of them have stood the test of time and few are based on hard data or hypotheses that are supportable.
Most educators know this fact. In order to cover up for this and to make up for the inadequacy in confronting a process that we don’t really comprehend, we do what modern man always does.
WE LABEL SOMETHING (“LEARNING”) AND “MEASURE” IT.
Then we are comfortable, because at least then we have the feeling that we have a grasp on the problem. We don’t really follow the process, but in lieu of a profound understanding of what’s going on, we find something and say, “Let’s declare this to be learning, by consensus. Then we can measure it and put it out of our minds”.
Now, this is exactly what the ENTIRE Educational system the world over has been doing: Quantify learning by breaking it up into measurable pieces – courses, hours, tests and grades.
One of the best stories about this is told by Winston Churchill, concerning his own childhood.
He was a total failure in school. To get into an exclusive high school, he had to go through the formality of an entrance exam. Of course, he knew (as did everybody else) that it made no difference, since he’d end up being accepted anyway, as one of the direct descendants of the duke of Marlborough. But there he was, faced with an entrance exam in Greek and Latin. He looked at the page for an hour and finally handed in an empty paper with his signature on it and a big smudge of ink. They gave upon him entirely and placed him in the dummies class, which learned ENGLISH. So, it happened that Winston Churchill opened his entire high school studying English literature, whereas all the successful “Cultured” people learned Greek and Latin. It hardly needs a mention that Churchill ended up being one of the finest stylists in the English language in the twentieth century.
The story above mentions that the restraints on the freedom of movement, thought control, obedience and punishment for disobedience, all cannot stop human brain to excel. The system should not focus on outcomes but should give space to children and their learning. If they spend time thinking and learning without being even bothered of the outcome, they surely will be able to think better in their life ahead. Learning will then be taking place and there will hardly be any need to measure it. A perfect blend of environment and freedom works.
Environment that we create for children affects their genes.
For this biological information not to be disturbing, we may need to understand how we can be in charge of own lives in this mechanistic view. Biology makes how we react to our mistakes the only freewill available. All our behaviours are the result of what our brain learned from our environment, so even our attempts at change are programed. We need to be patient as we make even the smallest improvement to our responses to mistakes.
This all makes it crucial that we understand that our thinking is an environment. It is something we can change by noticing-critical thinking-when our thinking isn’t effective. Without critical thinking we are stuck with the other effects of our environment, and all of us have been given limitations by things that went wrong in our environment. If we can’t change our behaviours over time, with patience, it is disturbing that we are too much like a machine.
Don’t you think the time has come, we should give space and time to our children to discover themselves?