Leaving learning to kids…

I’m the child of two life long public school teachers, and over Easter someone made the mistake of mentioning how great Montessori school and public charter schools were at the dining room table, which set off a conversation that ended in a lot of red faces, shaking fists and empty bottles of wine.  I forget exactly what was said (all I know is I didn’t start the fire) but it was something along the line so of “isn’t it great how some of those charter schools let children decide how they are going to learn a lesson, and what they are going to learn about.”  My parents are not against Montessori schools or charters schools, but they have definite opinions about the manner in which children are taught and what they are taught.  I don’t think I’ll be sending them James Gee’s article, Learning by Design, to read…I’ll never hear the end of it.  (You can find the link to the file at: http://www.archiva.net/hist697ay07/hist697ay07_schedule.html)

I agree that “different styles of learning work for different people.” I don’t agree that “classrooms adopting the principle would allow students to discover their favored learning styles and to try new ones without fear.” And I definitely don’t buy into his argument that, “in the act of customizing their ow learning, students wold learn a good deal not only about how and why they learn, but about learning and thinking themselves.”  What a load!  I understand that Gee is promoting the “free choice learning” (fancy museum education term) concepts used in video games in the classroom, but teachers  would be eaten alive if  every school day consisted of a series of “choose your own adventures” to teach a lesson.  Kids have to have structure, and a majority of the instruction they receive has to be structured-they have to be told how, what and when they are going to learn something.  There are, of course, students are physically/mentally unable to respond to structured learning…but I’m not really addressing them here.  I  don’t think your average child can be relied on to create their own learning experience as Gee suggests.

You can learn from video games (although I still haven’t learned a thing from Myst) and the concepts of identity, learning by design, customization, etc, etc, are interesting concepts to introduce and use to a minimal degree in the classroom.  Video games are not a solution to lessons students find boring though.  I hated historiography, and I’m not sure I’d like it any better if I was learning I through a game (what would that be like…The Sims: Appleby, Kuhn, Siad, and Ulrich-Thatcher?-scary.) I had to learn it though, and whereas I though it was boring as hell, I respect the way a difficult subject was taught to me by a trained professional.


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One response to “Leaving learning to kids…

  1. Okay, as promised. A comment. Students customizing their own learning is another “not new” concept. Hark back to the sixties and the advent of free schools and communes–in part as a cultural outgrowth of the time and admittedly with a limited target population. They served a purpose though at least as part of a movement to re-examine the educational system–inarguably, a persistent and ongoing process. While the ability for self-direction is a desired educational outcome, it’s not intuitive, but built upon the acquisition of knowledge. One point of education is to give people the tools they need to make choices about what they want to do, and I don’t know too many people who willingly choose to learn things outside of their comfort zone, things that aren’t easy for them. I would say that self-analysis of how and why one learns is about the bottom priority of the educational system and a luxury. Geez, Gee…

    As another note…it does seem to me that we need to distinguish between game-games and simulations. Different learning tools.

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