The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Learning is a Personal Decision

on July 16, 2018

Today’s piece is the reposting of an essay I wrote two years ago–with a few changes. As I mentioned before, friends and family members are visiting at this time of year, so I have little time left to write.  Because I think that many readers have little time to read for similar reasons, I don’t feel guilty right now.

I am sorry to have to say it, but the formalizing of students’ actions and behavior is a waste of time for students and teachers. What I am referring to is the teaching of grit, mindfulness, resilience or the switch to “personalized learning” that has become so popular recently.  Why don’t trained educators recognize the fact that all human beings– including young children—choose how they behave and what they learn?

Although we adults may influence children’s actions by our own actions, we cannot force them to like and retain all that we teach.  One strong example from my own experience is the weekly spelling lists that we practiced daily and were tested on every Friday. Although most of us wanted to get good grades in spelling, we did not care at all about retaining the correct spelling of the words taught.  Our motto every Friday was ” Forget the old words so we can learn the new ones”.

If we want students to like being at school, put effort into their assignments, and enjoy what is being taught we’ve got to make those things meaningful and worth working on in their eyes. And, we have to recognize that much of what is taught in schools stays with students only temporarily, not for the long run.

Let’s consider for a moment our adult use of school learning. Can we still speak or read the foreign language we studied in high school? Do we use algebra to solve our personal math problems at home? Do we remember why the War of 1812 was fought and against which foes? Which place became our 49th state?  Can you explain what is a gerund, a transitive verb, or a reflexive pronoun?*

The kinds of knowledge and skills solidified in school are the ones that are important to us personally, such as cooperation, kindness, listening and art, music, and sports.  Those are the kinds of things that good teachers practice regularly in the classroom, and by doing so, teach their students well.

We have a big problem in this country because the officials advocating for traditional education do not realize how shallow and ephemeral much of it is. Over the past twenty or so years what we have heard most often from the decision makers at the national and state level, and the critics, is that the standards for American students must be raised. Why?  “So we can compete with other countries,”they say. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we should be giving health care and free college to all American students.

In this blog I have written as often as possible about the good things I see or hear about in schools, and I wish every day that there were more. What I appreciate most is that my readers are realists who know the difference between fads, pipe dreams and the lasting things that can be learned in schools.

*Don’t feel bad; I had to look up most of those things. I didn’t remember them.

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