Tag Archives: nontraditional learning

The Practice of Learning…the cultivation of the child

Kurt Vonnegut said “The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.”  

I risk a paraphrase of that magnificent quotation…

The practice of Learning isn’t to make a living.  It’s to make your soul grow. 

Inside every human child there is a secret place… hidden… unknown… instilled with a magnificence we cannot fathom…

A place as deep as any ocean… as individual as each child’s DNA… In fact, I postulate this place holds each child’s personal intellectual genetic compass… a pathway that is only found through following the desires of that child’s intellectual heart… 

It is a place not often found… a place found only by the most blessed of people who were reared in an environment that encouraged that mad pursuit of intellectual independence toward what a “particular”  child was created to do… not educated, but cultivated… placed in sacred soil where the child was allowed to grow toward who he “is”…  for those who never find that special gift become those who live incomplete lives and who come to say in their old age those most tragic words… “If only”…

It is a place all but never found… for the soil in which we place most children today is not sacred… rather it is an artificial soil intended to grow discrete skills, uniformity, conformity, and the intellectual joining with the mass of humanity… humanity defined by the industrial definition of what it is to be human… 

They all must read… but they will read…

They all must calculate numbers… but they will calculate…

They all must write… but they all will write…

They all must understand what they need to endure in the world… but they will endure…

and they will learn all those things through the search for that hidden place… the sacred gift that each child is given… what they were made to be… 

These blessed children live in a world not defined by an expert’s definition of what a “graduate looks like”… No, they live in a world dedicated to letting them find the hidden place within their being by following their joy… by following that strong compass bearing holding true in their soul… by following their innate fascination with the creations miraculous paths…

They are the ones who walk the paths reading the compass of their heart… indeed that is the nature of those who found their genius… those who did not find that hidden place look at those who did find it and marvel… and feel the saddest intuition… did I not have something like that in me…

When we look at such a person we are looking at pure joy… we are looking at a being following the light for which they were created… the musician who plays miraculously… the doctor who heals with hands that seem dipped in sacred waters… the teacher who can reach into a child to help them find their hidden gift… the shuttle pilot who rides the thunder into the vastness of space… the carpenter who builds a house to stand the centuries… the cook who creates wonder from the gifts of the Earth… the physicist who listens to the music of the spheres… the machinist who works the elementals into shapes that allow the engines of our world to generate untold power in silence… the pastor who can communicate the eternal or quiet a grieving heart…

All these and millions more gifts are in as many children… But so few ever find that hidden place within their soul… so few… 

So what must we as a civilization do? 

We must remove the bindings of artificiality in what we allow children to learn…

We must renew our faith in art… music… great literature… true science…

We must renew our faith in play…for play is the foundation of creativity…

We must learn to trust that true compass within ourselves that always points to the joy… for as surely as we try to follow another’s compass or definition of learning we crush the joy…

We must give up our belief that there is “One” body of knowledge needed by every child…

We must not confine our thinking about learning to the small and mundane, but rather turn our thoughts to the greatness that could be… in every child… for in every honest and good path there is greatness…

We must trust our civilization to the miracle of the genius that created every child… we must allow ourselves to cultivate every growing child in such a way that they search, honestly search, for their hidden place… their hidden gifts… who they are supposed to be…

We must believe that we were given our minds to develop… 

We must believe above all else that we do feel the tug of the compass within ourselves… 

We must believe that if we follow that tug, that arterial tide within ourselves we will find our genius…

We will know when we have found our hidden place because it will be as if we have a powerful wind at our backs… those who have found their hidden place are the ones we call brilliant… the ones we call genius… the ones who inspire us… 

Should we fail in this we will see no more Galileo’s, no more Bach’s, no more Debakey’s, no more Einstein’s…  and we are failing… 

We are failing because we have believed a lie… we have believed that every child must be measured, cut from the same dull cloth, labeled with any of the hundreds of ways we try to categorize and limit human beings… We have believed that every child must learn the same things and be measured in the same way… and match the image of “what a graduate should look like”.   

We have believed the false premise that a human child can be manufactured through our well-meaning programs and curricula.  We have believed that the fact that we all share DNA makes us like every other… 

We have to learn that our DNA, the very thing that defines us all as human, makes us all as humanly different as stars in different galaxies… for that is what DNA is… it is an individual program… none like another… 

No human child is created like any other…when we found that DNA is a living program we took it to mean uniformity of universal intent when it means exactly the opposite… universal uniqueness…    

 This is why there is a dawning in some hearts lighting the way to another path, an independent brook away from the stream of humanity flowing into a sea of conformity… into the religion of similarity, of artificial counting of bits of knowledge, of sameness…. 

Those are the hearts that beat independently, the do answer to another rhythm, another music of the spheres…..

 The saddest truth is this; we will not see another Galileo, another Bach, another Debakey, another strange walker in time unless we have the courage to rebuild that which we call learning…. in our attempts to create uniformity in learning we will block the next stage in our development as human beings…. as a species specially created by God… each of us with a distinct purpose… each with an inborn joy that is lost to most of us by the time we are teenagers… the result being all the particular problems that do overtake our children because we are trying to actually create a uniform human being… as uniform as the length of each grass blade in a suburban lawn.

We must adopt a practice of learning that is only intent on finding that hidden place, a practice of learning that is independent, that results in the cultivation of the seed that is within every individually created child. 

 

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Inadequate Textbooks, Homeschooling and open education

Recently, I posted an entry on developing custom personal “textbooks” by collecting content from the internet.  I was very gratified when that post was picked up by Openeducationnews.org.  When I clicked over to their link I discovered another excellent article titled Illusion of Quality in K-12 textbooks written by Jane Park.  This event was extremely rewarding to me but it was also a perfect example of why I advocate the use of personally developed research oriented material rather than the use of textbook-like materials. 

The publication of my thoughts led me to discover information that provides a more complete foundation for my post. That is at the heart of what occurs in true independent learning.  It also extends the post with new information that I can use to learn along with anyone else who reads it and then follows the links provided.  Another wonderful benefit of this even was that I was introduced to writers working on the same concepts from whom I can extend my reach. 

That is what learning is like in the real world. 

Most often after what we think of as formal schooling we learn far more through the interwoven networks of our real work interactions and real research.  By research I include any and all learning in any field of endeavor from developing skill in a trade to practicing medicine.  All learning should be thought of as a practice. 

All of that post-school learning is motivated intrinsically within us thus it is retained.  I will never forget Jane Parks’ article because my mind was in what I refer to as the “Learning Mindset”.  

The Learning Mindset happens when we are involved in work that has meaning to us.  That is why so many people, if they are honest with themselves, readily admit they remember almost nothing they learned in school except that which they use in their lives. 

An example of the worst found in the thought of education reformers taken right out of the current debate on education can be found in the January 2010 U. S. News and World Report in an article titled “The Extreme School Makeover”.  The article makes the stunning statement that under President Obama’s education proposals seniors “could be expected to solve problems such as – if there are 8 x 10 to the 12th power hydrogen molecules in a volume of 4 x 10 to the 4th power cubic centimeters, what is the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?”   Forgive me for I don’t know how to do superscripts in Wordpress.   To me this immediately begs the question why would the average citizen ever need to know how to figure the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?  And, why would we expect any student not bound for a career in a field in which that arcane problem is useful remember it past the test?  Ask any senior why they need to know that information.  They will answer “I need it for the test”. 

Congratulations the most powerful government on the face of the Earth has labored mightily to lay another rotten egg. 

This is an example of why education is failing.  That question is one constructed by a committee of individuals who sat down to construct the ideal knowledge set to be learned by the ideal student.  They probably asked themselves this inane question as I once did on a similar committee; “what should the high school graduate look like”?  That’s a quote from the task set before the committee on which I served.  That day was one of the turning points in my outlook on how education is done in this country.  

After a while I realized that “the” high school graduate should look nothing like any other high school graduate.  Some will most certainly look like future engineers, chemists or medical doctors.  But others will look like writers, journalists or anchors.  Some will look like diesel mechanics, transmission specialists, entrepreneurs and carpenters.  Others will look like biologists, foresters or any of the untold professions that can be found among human beings.  Further, each graduate will look different because they are not mass-produced objects put together on some obscene human assembly line. 

To look at students any other way is to deny their individuality inherent to each one.  That is why learning materials need to fit the individual rather than some ideal group.

Then the committee, more then likely, set out to brainstorm the things this ideal graduate would be able to “know and do”.   That particular requirement given in U. S News came from some list of abstractions sewn together by such a committee like some Frankensteinian freak.   All such requirements could now  be required of every innocent child born in America .  Absurdity on absurdity.   

Tragically, this is how commercial textbooks are written.  The time to blaze a new trail has long since passed.   Constructing custom resources using the internet is useful for a number of reasons. Very carefully selected and modified commercial materials can also be useful.  But, here are a number of thoughts on why I advocate constructing personal materials.   

  • The information you find using quality sources will be current. 
  • An internet based “textbook” can be changed in a heartbeat.  If something doesn’t work change it.  It isn’t required curriculum.
  • The information you find will be specifically fitted for what you or a child needs now.
  • The information you select will be relevant to what a child or independent learner needs to learn.
  • One thing I did not emphasize in the last post was the value of involving independent learners in the development of the material.  Doing so will increase what is retained because it will be meaningful. 
  • Questions will lead to other questions
  • Intrinsic interest will be high. 
  • As material is discovered and learned neural pathways in the brain will develop due to intrinsic interest.
  • As the materials are discovered new questions will arise opening new pathways.
  • Research skills which are intrinsically useful will be developed in a natural way just as carpenters and machinists can work with fractions as if they were born with the skill.  Those trades use fractions every moment of the day.  They can’t help but learn fractions. 
  • The material will be learned because it is discovered personally and “worked” personally.  It isn’t assigned. 

The simple reason that most of us don’t learn material that is simply assigned, even if we made 100’s on the assignments, was that our minds were not “personally” engaged by it.  We were fulfilling someone elses goal.

We learn the things that are personally meaningful, fit our God-given gifts, fit our God ordained developmental pathways and have meaning to our particular lives. 

I won’t try to outline what Jane Park wrote so well in her article.  Please read Jane Park’s brilliant article for yourself  here.

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Give your life to a purpose, passionate living, home school, independent learning

I have a great challenge for you tonight.  What do you want to give your life for.  No, I’m not talking about dying a noble death.  I’m talking, no, I’m asking you to find something worth living for, not dying for.  I want you to find one or more passions; things worth spending your life doing or learning about.  Something worth dreaming about for hours during the day.  A thing worth planning years ahead, plotting, laying out a trail to lead to a golden end.   I have three.  First, the life of the mind takes center stage.  How do we actually learn.  Why is it that so few of us live exciting intellectual lives when I believe that most of us could live a passionate intellectual life.  And, on the practical side of it.  How do kids best learn.  I am convinced it’s not at school for most kids.  For me, school was a 12 year long prison sentence.  As  a teacher I work everyday of my life to try to make schools – or at least my little corner of the school world into a vibrant place that young people love.  Second, I practice two arts; photography and woodworking.  They are my connections to sanity as well as an extra income stream.  I am fascinated by the beauty of transcendent craft in wood.  The beauty of an artfully produced photograph always stuns me.  I drift from one to the other.  The third is bird watching.  Bird watching is as much a connection to God as the church.  In birds I see the magnificence of His creation.  I see the infinite variety, infinate adaptations, transcendent colors and the thing I dream about most – flight.  The photography, the woodwork, and the bird watching are for me.  The study of the mind as well as how it learns is for the world.  I want you to find something to change the world. 

Egotistic you say?  Not at all.  The field I have set for myself is impossible.  How people learn, how they make knowledge their own, then grow into experts is so hard a mine to explore that I will not live long enough to make a change I fear.  That is probably one of my greatest nightmares; that I know I will die before I have learned it all or made the difference I want to make to kids and other people who are trying to learn.   Not all people do learn.  Some shut down after the 12 year prison sentence that school was for me.   They never want to pick up a pen or pencil again because we have squeezed the guts out of the pleasure.  By the time many kids get out of school they find themselves ready to cast away the vestments of school to run as far away as possible.  To be naked of school is their goal.  But so many never find the joy out of school.  These unfortunates have been so convinced that learning cannot be a thing of transcendent joy that they look upon learning as a child looks upon vomit.  So they run, ridicule and resist any further intellectual life.  They have had enough.  They have fed at the table of knowledge and found it poisonous. 

What I am asking you to do, if you are one of the   many who have started to follow these electronic scribblings, is to find a new passion.  It’s there.   Somewhere in the darkest, cobweb infested mind there is a corner where a dim flame still burns waiting for holy breath to blow it into raging flame.  You had something you wanted to learn to do, or say, or perform at one time.  When you were a little child still resisting the poison of industrial education you still had it.  You looked at it with love.  Perhaps it was a love for a subject or a project that was so deep it went beyond love into obsession. 

You will find something to take out of that corner which can be dusted, made new and shiny, ready to be loved again.  You will find something as beautiful as I find discovering what it is that really, genuinely brings out that passion in a child.  That passion that says I have to do this thing or I will just wilt.  My life will die.  Look around you on your commuter train or look from your car.  Look at the faces of those going to work at jobs where they will labor with a sense of quiet desperation.  Perhaps you are one of those.  Stop it!  At least devote some of your time to the thing that makes your soul soar to the Heavens when you are doing it.  I’m not telling you to quit your job.  No, but, I am telling you to become an independent learner with a purposeful life seeking to add to human knowledge. 

Eric Hoffer discovered his passion.  Hoffer wrote ten books while he labored as a longshoreman.  His “True Believer” which set the standard in the social science study of self-esteem as it effects fanatical movements.  While he labored on the docks he contemplated the rise of totalitarianism and the loss of the self.  His postulate was that fanaticism had its gnarled, arthritic claws firmly planted in self-hatred, self-hate and insecurity.  All of this Hoffer did with little formal education and a labor job on the docks.  Eric Hoffer is now a major figure looked up to in the social sciences.  Had he let himself believe that he was less worthwhile for lacking the college degrees and the paper expertise of the dilettante, he would never have changed the course of American social thought. 

Frans Lanting is a photographer.  He discovered his passion in the Albatross.  These magnificent seabirds of the deep oceans are slowly yielding their secrets to Lanting.  He has made photographing them, documenting their lives his life’s work.  As he developed his photographic skills he came back to them over and over.  He is now the leading photographer of this magnificent species as well as one of the world’s foremost experts on the Albatross.  All through his pursuit of photography he intended to show the world the magnificence of the bird he loves.

Don’t live a life of quiet desperation.  Discover your passion.  Perhaps you left it years ago feeling that I can’t make a living at that.  You were probably wrong.  But, for whatever reason, you left it.  Maybe you wanted to become a premier doctor in some medical field. And maybe the time of medical school has passed you.  But you can still form a foundation to raise money for the field.  You can still write scholarly articles and books to help the laymen understand what it is that you want them to know about your passion in medicine.  You can also help them by writing passionately about the disease from which they may suffer.

In the next while we are going to explore how to do this.  We are going to look for a life project.  This will be something that will be significant to you perhaps to no one else.  It doesn’t matter.  You are going to use your full talents for something that will give life meaning to you.  Give your life a renewed purpose, a new hope, a new direction.  Pick your field, master it and make it your own.  Thousands of men, women and young people such as yourselves have done this without the Ph.D.’s  Don’t be intimidated by the terminal degrees.  Often these degrees take the joy out of the hunt for the people who earn them.  They focus so finely on one small swatch of the fabric of their discipline that soon they may know the most about nothing among all the experts in the world.  Being the master of a cubic  centimeter is not a match for having a broad understanding and feeling for the width and breadth of a whole discipline.  Hang on for the ride is going to be fun and bumpy.   But what a ride it will be. It will be the ride of your lifetime – a lifelong learning project to take you down roadways yet unknown.

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