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I’ve got many an acquaintance who are involved in some way in educating young kids (notice I did not say children). One of the fashionable teaching ideologies today is that students should be the teachers of themselves. While there is much to the idea in various contexts, as a driving force for educating kids it is wholly disastrous and full of contradictions. First let me remind readers that helping kids learn lessons and skills for themselves is not exactly what this doctrine is pushing.To illustrate, even though my own kids are young, I try to slowly allow them to understand their limits, and to understand the relationship between risk and reward. Hence I do not panic when they hop up on top of 4 foot high boulders. I think falling, and trying not to fall, and enjoying the jumps across, are well within our kids’ physical and cognitive abilities and I would be hamstringing their development seriously if I wrapped them in pillows while up on the rocks, or simply did not permit such mini-adventure.  No, this is not at all what I am talking about.

The modern “child directed learning” is not about understanding limits, learning about custom and moral norms, and the like, rather it is simply an educational effort to expunge the idea of “right and wrong” from a kid’s education, and even if you wish to tell me that no one is trying to expunge the rightness of various outcomes, it certainly is an attempt to expunge the rightness of various processes which learners use to obtain the truth.

Of course, one of the most hilarious aspects of this whole movement is why it is deemed necessary in the first place. Since we have totally bureaucratized and cookie-cutterized the education of our kids, there is little to no room for teachers to legitimately experiment with different learning styles. Even if student-guided learning was useful in doses, teachers do not exactly have the incentives to employ it, or perhaps may not even be allowed to do so. Thus we end up seeing a bureaucratic movement, originating in the halls of the Ed Graduate programs, to introduce this new and innovative way of learning into the curriculum. It cannot be any other way. These schools stamp teachers with Masters to deem them “qualified.” Schools only hire these graduates. States sanction these students with a certification stamp, and children must attend the school where they live. So any experimenting done on the children does truly come at a greater cost than it should. There is no room for schools to hire innovative teachers, especially since the point of an ED School curriculum is to teach the stuff that is known already – the entire opposite of innovation in education. There is no rooms for schools to hire innovative teachers because every one of them needs to have the blessing of an Ed school and a state certification. Where does this leave the innovators in education? And of course, since the parents are forced to attend the government school located near them, if some “rogue” teacher decides to experiment with new teaching methods, that teacher can neither attract interested families from outside the district, nor repel dissatisfied families away into other schools unless great expense is taken.

One difficulty for the supporters of child centered learning is telling you when your child is ready for it. Is your 2-year old capable of directing her learning? And how much intervention does the teacher engage in? What is different about a 3-year old? Or an 11-year old?  And what criteria are being used to determine why and when the student is ready to teach themselves? Of course to answer these questions is to undermine the very justification of a broad-swath of the student-centered learning initiatives. And don’t take this to mean that students are not to learn on their own, that is far from what we are talking about here – what we are talking about here is the rise of relativism in the K12 classrooms, and the rise of “feelings” as driving education as much as being right.

The final and most hilarious aspect of the student centered learning model is the embedded hypocrisy in it. And of course, I’ve yet to speak to an education person who is even willing to admit this hypocrisy much less address it. Think about this. A traditional method of teaching kids math, such as long division by pencil and paper is being cast aside to allow students to explore the ways to solve a division problem. And even when they get them wrong, which they inevitably do (I’ll share some teaching stories of my own about this shortly), we slap them on the back and tell them “everyone’s a winner” just for playing the game. There are no right or wrong ways to learn things. Same for reading and science and writing. All of the tried and true techniques and strategies (such as extensive drilling and practice) are simply devices from the Western Establishment to indoctrinate the moldable children into “our” exploitive tradition to continue the cycle of exploitation for generation after generation after generation. I kid you not. This is the mindset of the new educational establishment. So we evaluate math performance not on whether a kids gets things right or wrong (and in a short period of time), but rather how they felt as they were struggling with problems. Teachers are there to listen and to perhaps lend support, but certainly not to teach – and this is because our little precious darlings are little adults shackled in those tiny bodies.

The irony of course, the absurdity of course, is that this all gets thrown rapidly out the window by these same erudite educators when it comes to the issues of safety, nutrition and environmental education. Think about this. Kids are “adult enough” to teach themselves math and science and to toss away the values of Western Civilization. But then they are not at all capable of handling their own safety? Why do we need anti-gun measures, especially for the kids? Why do we need locked doors, and adults with IDs? If the kids are able to direct their learning surely they are capable of handling their own security? Or how about nutrition? If kids are brilliant enough and developed enough to tell teachers how they think about science, then surely then can handle making smart food choices for themselves? There is no need to ban soda machines, or to place the fresh veggies at the front of the cafeteria line when students are their own learners, and are mature and smart enough to think for themselves without the traditional Western values breathing down their neck? Or how about the environment? Our kids, including my 5-year old in Kindergarten, are having “E”nvironmental dogma jammed down their throat both as absolute truth and as a moral imperative. How the hell does that fit in with the educational movement for kids to teach and empower themselves? If your 5-year old dared to ask a teacher, “but WHY do we recycle?” or “are we sure that we’re running out of water, I once learned of something called the water cycle?” or, “how do we know that warmer temperatures won’t actually benefit us?” or any of a number of environmental questions do you think the teachers will say, “whatever you think about it is right Johnny?” Or, “how do those questions make you feel Johnny?” Nope. Not at all. They’ll learn “fact” from the ED establishment. This is of course absurd. What makes kids capable of directing their learning when it comes to some science and to some social studies and to some math but not other areas of those same fields? What makes kids capable of directing their learning but not capable of feeding or protecting themselves? Of course, you are going to tell me, “they are kids.” Which is precisely the point. There is much more to explore here, but that’ll be it for today — I’ve got to get my own kids off to their day of indoctrination.

2 Responses to “Let the Kids Teach Themselves”

  1. Harry says:

    An MD friend said that his education before medical school prepared him to learn how to learn how to learn, and medical school helped him to learn how to learn medicine, but that his residency was the real beginning of learning real medicine.

    Isn’t that the point of all education, or at least the main point — to learn how to learn? Then at some point, having learned enough, one starts to learn what one does not know.

    I am not saying the point of education is to make everyone a philosopher. But the idea that kids can teach themselves is, as WC says, is absurd, and a big waste of their time and our money.

    Last winter I asked a Brownie I guess was around eight how much for four boxes of Girl Scout cookies at four dollars per box. While I can understand that a big man can be intimidating to a little girl, she could not answer the question. She did say she knew how much three boxes cost, and I quickly backed off the interrogation, with her mother standing there, maybe wondering about what was happening at school. For all I know the girl’s older brother only knows what two boxes of Cub Scout popcorn costs, unless he uses the calculator on his smartphone.

    I know that self-esteem is and has been the rage in elementary education, but if it is, then how does not drilling kids with times tables contribute to self-esteem?

  2. wintercow20 says:

    I asked college students in an upper-level economics class (on money and banking where we were computing capital ratios) to give me a percentage represented by the fraction 10/22. More than a handful simply could not do the calculation and left the answers in their book as, “whatever decimal is represented by 10/22”

    And we are a “Top 40” National Research University.

    It’s funny, that fraction is one of those that can be remembered by some of the fun rules of thumb we teach ourselves when we are forced to think about math on our own. 10/22 is 5/11. I always loved fractions that ended in 11 because of their repeating patterns. So in this case you could remember that you drop one from the numerator and repeat it with a sum that adds to 9 … 0.45454545454545454 … for 2/11 you get .18181818 … for 8/11 you get .72727272 and so on.

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