THE way we learn is a mix of our natural individual tendencies, as well our experiences, from when we first started to form words, and to curl our fingers, and to stand and walk, up to the present. We learn in different ways and at different speeds.
In high school, I found the math and physics lectures easy to absorb. Halfway through the class, I and another classmate with a similar interest would already be answering the problems at the end of the chapter. He was seated at the back so I would turn around and we would use hands signals to compare answers with one another. Meanwhile, my seatmate would be scratching her head in frustration because she couldn’t get past the teacher’s first example, and at this point, the teacher assumed everyone had got it and had moved on to the second part of his lecture.
What I described still happens (in varying degrees) every day, in every traditional classroom around the world. You have a group of kids with different learning styles, listening to a single topic, each with varying degrees of interest, delivered by a singular teacher in her singular style, which was also developed from her own unique set of abilities and experiences.
In this day and age, how can we still see this as the optimum way to learn?
My seatmate never got over her math phobia and to this day utters her disdain for the subject. The way I see it, the act of teaching hampered her learning in several ways:
1) Perhaps the way math teachers traditionally teach just didn’t jive with her learning style. Being her friend, I also tried to tutor and help her, but she couldn’t get me either. So our styles don’t match as well.
2) Perhaps she subconsciously found a certain pride being in the “not good in math” crowd -- a far larger crowd than the opposite -- and thus identified with more people.
3) Being seatmates with one who found the subject easy certainly didn’t help. Perhaps she felt pressured to catch up. “Why does he get it so quickly and I don’t? Am I dumb or something?” This pressure in turn made it harder for her to just relax and go at her own pace.
4) Perhaps she just didn’t find any practical use for it at that time. She is currently a pediatrician and does just fine when computing medicine dosages for kids of different weights. That shows she can learn well enough and master certain aspects of math when she finds it interesting and useful to do so.
In an article entitled How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development, Dr. Peter Gray asserts that “It is generally a waste of time, and often harmful, to teach academic skills to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational and intellectual foundations. Children who haven’t acquired a reason to read or a sense of its value will have little motivation to learn the academic skills associated with reading and little understanding of those skills. Similarly, children who haven’t acquired an understanding of numbers and how they are useful may learn the procedure for, say, addition, but that procedure will have little or no meaning to them.”
Teaching does not equal learning. The tragedy is that we know this, yet send our kids to school anyway.
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