Thursday, April 7, 2011

Total Freedom in Learning= Exponential Growth in Knowledge

I attended a talk by Daniel Pink, the author of "A Whole New Mind" this evening at a school near my home. The biggest take away from his talk for me was when he mentioned how artists that are allowed to create paintings without any constructs turn out a higher quality of work than those creating art for a specific purpose or for someone else. Daniel's example made me think of our schools and that if we could apply the same principle shown above regarding artists to our students, by essentially allowing for more freedom in our schools, then maybe we would turn out better students. Students filled with passion and creativity and ready to move toward solving some of the problems facing the world.

Daniel talked tonight about how the policy makers in education need to get out of the way and allow teachers to run the schools, but I don't think that is the answer either. I believe teachers would feel the need to teach, to fill students with curriculums of their choosing when actually the reverse is needed. Students should be given the opportunity to fill themselves with knowledge based on their own self directed interests. I would like to see a complete switch take place in education where teachers provide the answers if and when students come looking for them. It would be a teacher's job then to create the desire and passion to learn and subsequently guide their student's interests.

An example of this sort of educational model can be found in the homeschooling arena where many children and teens are given freedom to pursue their interests, some with a higher degree of freedom than others. It has been my experience as a homeschooler, that the more freedom I offer my son Ryan, the more passionate and creative he becomes. In fact, now at age 14, after learning in a free environment for almost 5 years, I am finding the number of interests my son is pursuing with enthusiasm to be exploding. It seems almost daily, Ryan comes to me with a new idea of something we wants to learn or study further.

Just last week he told me he wants to learn more about astronomy, physics, JFK, and the Cold War, many of these interests sparked by exposure to these topics at the alternative educational center he attends. I told Ryan that he would have to go it alone in the physics field because I had flunked physics in high school. I explained I would be more than happy to provide resources in which to pursue physics but I wouldn't be able to "teach" it to him. I also went on to say that many colleges expect their students to know how to pursue knowledge and that many recent high school graduates come out of school lacking in that skill, having been told for years what to learn and how to learn it.

Imagine my surprise then when we were at the climbing gym on Sunday and met a retired University of Pennsylvania physics professor who told Ryan about how he could take a Intro to Physics class online with MIT through a program called Open Course Ware. He wouldn't get credit for the course, but would get fantastic exposure. Ryan, without my knowledge, went onto the site one morning when I was out and watched the first video of the class, taking notes and excitedly telling me what he had learned when I returned home.

This same sort of example happens over and over at my house and the incidence of this happening is growing exponentially, so much in fact, that much of Ryan's time is spent in the pursuit of knowledge, with little regard to time of day or day of the week. I am just as apt to find Ryan researching something on a Sunday as on a so called "school day". Because Ryan's learning is self-motivated or directed, it is a better quality of learning. Learning he is passionate about and will remember far longer than the typical student who forgets what his teacher taught him after being tested on the material.

So my idea of educational reform would be to throw out most of what we currently do in schools and start anew. Offer freedom in learning to students and have multiple age classrooms so young people can learn from one another. Have teachers become facilitators and guides who stoke the passions of students by introducing a variety of topics to young people in an experiential hands on way. But most of all, give students the time to discover what most interests them and allow them to pursue it. Like the artists stroking a paintbrush against the canvas, creating what they see in their minds eye.

Below is a link to an excellent article written by Daniel Pink regarding his thoughts on education in this country which I discovered after I wrote my above post. We have very similar thoughts on how education needs to change in this country but he goes into more depth and supports his statements with many examples.


1 comment:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

It would be refreshing to have a young person persue educational subjects on his own. Bravo to your son -- barbara