AERO. Op-Ed: Are Kids Naturally Lazy or Natural Learners?

From AERO News 20.06.2010

Op-Ed: Are Kids Naturally Lazy or Natural Learners? Jerry Mintz

It wouldn’t be so bad if the current education debate just involved different ways to achieve the same goals for children. But the reality is much more dangerous.

We are talking about two completely different paradigms: One, the traditional one that is failing, assumes that children are naturally lazy and need to be forced to learn. If you believe that then you need competition for grades, passing and failing, tons of homework, long school days, long school years, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

But modern brain research doesn’t confirm that assumption. Rather, it confirms a second paradigm, that children are natural learners, that the brain is naturally inquisitive. If you operate on that paradigm, as many progressive educators and homeschoolers do, almost none of the approaches mentioned above should be used. The teacher’s role is to actively help the student find resources to explore and learn about everything they are interested in.

In fact, forcing students to be in traditional schools operating on the first assumption creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: After about six or seven years of forcing students to learn things that they aren’t interested in and are often irrelevant to their lives, they do appear to lose interest in learning. That natural ability to learn is gradually extinguished. Anyone who has ever administered standardized tests to that group can see clearly that the rate of improvement on the whole decreases to a crawl, even on those flawed standardized tests. But beyond that, you see the light go out of their eyes. They retreat to watching television and playing video games. Even worse, they retreat to drugs, or in some notorious cases, decide to try to kill people in their schools or themselves.

The latter cases may be rare, but they do reflect that culturally we simply accept as fact that children hate school. Why do we accept that? If children are natural learners and they say they hate school, something is wrong with their school. Something is wrong with many, many schools.

There are schools that children love, and love to go to. These are under the general heading of alternative and progressive. They are learner-centered in their approach. I know of one democratic school in which the children voted to ban all snow days. They didn’t want to miss anything.

Did you wonder why the government never gives statistics comparing home-educated children to publicly educated ones? In many states homeschoolers are required to take standardized tests. The answer might be because in at least one study homeschooled students scored in the 86th percentile nationally.

We need to end No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Education is not a race. Nobody tests you in order to allow you to leave the public library. You are assumed to be a natural learner. All people are. All children are. We need to understand the new educational paradigm before it is too late.

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