A Garden of Delights

What Makes Teachers Teachers

Posted on: August 30, 2009

I love watching TED lately.

About a month back. my husband downloaded MIRO, and we’ve been delighting in the return of what we call “good television”. After lovely presentations by Sarah Jones, Ken Robinson, Pilobolus, and so many more I find myself hitting my Facebook profile intent on sharing every single video with the world. Of course I can’t. I can put the links out there and HOPE that friends will look and want to pass the links on as well. I cannot dictate that other should be as delighted as I am with the pieces, and I can’t sit next to them as they turn on their PCs and direct them to the links.

Seems so futile at times, yet when I get a comment back from someone about how much they enjoyed a piece, or how they thought X was good, but that the speaker should have focused on Y…. It’s nice to know that I gave another person something that had been important to me as well.

So when I shared Sugata Mitra’s piece on How Kids Teach Themselves, it stuck me as odd that instead of joy, I felt wrong after I had shared this piece.  I wondered if the concept of unschooling, which seems to be the focus of this  piece in the main, meant that teachers and their gift were not only unnecessary, but actively detrimental to the process of learning.  A discussion with my husband later brought back my smiles.  For all that Dr. Mitra had not been around for the actual learning process, he HAD taught those children how to use a computer.  He had offered them something that mattered to him, computer literacy, and placed it where it could be studied, used and tinkered with.  And just as I post links to Facebook (and here).

A good teacher offers new opportunities, opens new doors, presents things that people aren’t even aware they didn’t know….

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2 Responses to "What Makes Teachers Teachers"

The idea that Dr. Mitra taught the children by placing that computer, to me, is akin to saying that if a coconut fell on a sharp rock and broke open, and a small child happened to witness it, that the tree had taught the child.

The researcher, in this case, simply put something new in the environment. The children didn’t know anything about the experiment he was conducting, his love of computer literacy, or English….

The children learned. Dr. Mitra did not teach….to teach is to impart information or ideas. But he did not interact with those children. and I will bet that children who had no interest learned nothing…they were off somewhere else, learning something that wasn’t part of the experiment, and that we never saw…

He put a computer in the wall. That’s all. He turned on his camera and went away for a while…

Unschoolers have been doing the same thing for decades…it’s called “strewing”, and is a very efficient method for placing interesting things and experiences into the child’s reach, then letting them discover and use the item (or not) as they wish. That’s why, when you posted it, I commented that there really had been no need to do a study – what happens in that situation has been proven in many, many homes, and is well-documented.

Teachers, outside of school, *are* unneeded (and possibly detrimental). Inside of school, they are no doubt needed…those school walls separate the children within from the vastness of real life, subject them to schedules, and assignments, and the need for crowd control…

Mentors and facilitators work better in the real world – those who offer up the wisdom they’ve acquired, trusting that others will use it, or not, in a way *that works for them*. Teachers, on the other hand, need to teach certain information dictated by some higher authority, in a specific sequence, and using certain methods…

The real world does not work that way.

The problem is that those of us who went to school really have little concept of how learning works in a natural sense. School has given us perceptions of what it *needs* to look like. And, if we then sends our children to school, we quickly lose sight of all the things those children have already learned quite naturally – walkinng, talking, reaching, focusing, pouring, object permanence, and the list goes on and on….

Why should it stop at age 5? Truth is, it doesn’t. I see it here, every day, as my children learn and learn and learn…not always what I would have preferred they learn, but always something they needed to know.

The absolute best thing I can do is to provide a rich, fertile, joyful home, and take them to lots of fun, interesting places. To share my own passions with them when they’re interested, to stop what I’m doing and be with them when they need or want me near…

And to do nothing to dam up the flow of learning in their lives….it is an awesome force, but, if i tried to direct it or tame it to what *I* think is important, I am essentially ignoring that this is their life, not mine, and they will learn what they need to live the lives they choose…not some far-off day, when they’re grown up, but right now, and tomorrow, and every day, every moment…

They’re alive now. They’re people now. And they know what they want. without prompting, or pushing, or a classroom, they are thriving, articulate, and amazingly passionate about learning, living, loving, and laughing….

In the end, maybe, it comes down to trust. Radical unschoolers trust our children to make choices that work for them. we give them a huge degree of freedom compared to mainstream parenting – and far more than is possible in ay classroom. and, if we trust them, how then could we send them off to be told what they need to know (at least long enough to recite it or pass a test on it)?

Children are not unformed creatures waiting to be formed….they are young humans, already equipped with all they need to learn what they need today. And tomorrow…and the rest of their lives. teaching molds…and in the molding, something of what makes each child unique cannot help but be lost.

This, of course, is not a scientific study. Nor is it theoretical….it’s just our experience, here, with our two always-learning children, ages 8 and 5.

“All children can unschool. Not all parents can.” – (I think this was Kelly Lovejoy)

I tried to explain on our Facebook discussion what make me feel that this is still teaching. I do think we could discuss the semantics of the words here forever and go nowhere.

To me, strewing as you call it is teaching. Because to me a teacher “facilitates” learning no more, no less. And by presenting things we value in our strewing attempts, we attempt to guide the learning process. Same as the learning to walk, talk, etc a young child does. We model the behavior we most value and the child learns through observation and interaction with us. (What we say we value and what we actually model as our values may differ extremely, but that is another topic.)

A lecturer or a “school marm” or a professor can all be called teachers because society judges that their task is “to teach”. But in my own little warped corner of the world, a teacher only becomes a “real” teacher when s/he stops “teaching” and begins offering and sharing without expectations.

Does this make any sense?

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