Viewpoint #1: Willingham
Mastering subject matter is hard, and it
takes a long time.
Viewpoint #2: Aldrich
Kids are pre-programmed to learn.
Schools don’t nurture that innate curiosity too well.
What are we saying to kids?
“Buckle Down!” vs. “Explore!”
For me, these two books crystallize two different education approaches that have grown out of our expanding understanding of how the human brain works.
Although he writes about the brain in an interesting and authoritative way, Willingham seems to represent the group that retains faith in traditional forms of schooling–what I’ve called the “paradigm of control” in earlier posts. They see unmotivated kids in their classes as basically lazy.
Aldrich advocates for an alternative way of “doing school,” which is more individual in its approach than traditional school as we currently know it. He and others who think like him see unmotivated kids as people who have not been able to connect with their innate drive to learn.
I am a longtime teacher and practitioner of the arts. For me, the idea of long hours of hard work undertaken for no other reward than mastering a skill–and finding joy in that–is really not strange.
This is because I know that hard work doesn’t have to be the same thing as boring drudgery.
Okay, practicing arpeggios or learning to hit the basket every time (even if it requires thousands of missed baskets) may sometimes seem like drudgery. But for a person who is passionately interested in music or basketball, the arpeggios and the practice-baskets are not the point.
One practices them for the same reason someone fascinated with chemistry memorizes the periodic table, or someone enchanted with the precision of numbers learns to figure algorithms.
It isn’t so we can pass a test on them. (Not EVER). It’s because we need that ability, knowledge or skill to explore our chosen interest more fluently.
For my money, this is the kind of education every child and adult needs to experience, and which very few schools manage to deliver reliably. Whether it is flute-playing, basketball, higher math, or almost anything, when our interest and drive to learn is engaged, we learn all we can about it, and eventually achieve mastery, because we are fascinated.
PHOTO CREDITS: Cover art for the two books comes from the Rainy Day Books website. The image of three girls playing flutes came from the website of Grosvenor School, an independent day school in South Nottingham. The photo of little Kai practicing baskets is from the blog, “The Adventures of Stinky Mouse and Go Jee.” Many thanks to all!