Our choices are artificial education vs natural education: either we force the student to learn; or, curiosity is universal, and only needs encouragement.
In Japan, school children are taught this Haiku which reflects the approaches of three successive warlords of Japan. Together they unified much of the country, and led to a stability that lasted for over 200 years.
If the songbird won’t sing, kill it.
– Oda Nobunaga
If the songbird won’t sing, make it sing.
– Toyotomi Hideyoshi
If the songbird won’t sing, wait for it to sing.1)I have taken liberty with the translation here; the original quotes specify ‘cuckoo’ rather than ‘songbird’. Because of the negative nature of ‘cuckoo’ in English I changed it.
– Tokugawa Ieyasu
Socrates and Reincarnation
In Plato’s Meno, the author describes Socrates laying out a geometric problem to a slave boy. Despite the slave’s lack of education, he correctly solves the problem, which Socrates uses as proof of reincarnation.
Socrates was right; we are reincarnated, in a biological way. The logic centers of our brains are the product of our genes, and those genes have been passed through many generations – many genetic reincarnations – to each of us. Our brains are, quite literally, reincarnations of the genius of past generations.
The point here, however, is that the ability to learn is innate; even an uneducated slave had the ability to learn sophisticated ideas. Thinking and learning are highly complex things, and there are aspects of human abstract reasoning that exist nowhere else in the history of the Earth, and perhaps nowhere else in the universe.
So our brains are not only represent reincarnation, they also are a bit of a miracle. We show the student a few examples, and voilà! the student grasps the pattern, and can apply it to an infinite series of related problems. Even though it is something we have all done, it is still miraculous to see in our children and students. One day they know something that they did not know the day before.
This is a very important insight: historically, education has been designed around books, schools and teaching paradigms, but not students. This historical approach overlooks the fact that the bulk of the work, the miraculous work, is done by the student. The most gifted teacher cannot teach a stone, and she can only teach a chimpanzee a few simple things.
But children learn, with or without a teacher. What a gifted teacher does is to draw the child’s attention, and curiosity – natural curiosity – toward different topics. And what the gifted teacher recognizes and deeply respects, is the miracle.
Consider what the word ‘education’ means: ‘to lead out.’ The teacher leads, but it is the miracle of the child that allows her to follow the teacher, then equal the teacher, and eventually go perhaps even further.
Artificial Education vs Natural Education
This us brings us back to the opening quotes. There are two approaches to education. Or rather three, but the first is the lethal education of nature (not to be confused with natural education, below). That corresponds to the first quote, by Oda Nobunaga.
Unless, however, we are to resort to killing our students – and more than one teacher has occasionally considered just this option – there are really only two approaches, artificial education vs natural education, which match the descriptions in the last two quotes.
The first, artificial education, begins with the proposition that learning is something that children only take up under duress, and so they must be forced through every step. At least some of those educational traditions come from Prussian traditions, which would certainly help explain such a brutal approach.
The other, natural education, begins with the premise that students are instinctive life-long learners. This tradition comes out of institutions such as Maria Montessori’s schools, and the Summerhill School in England, which were built, appropriately enough, ‘around children.’
Clearly, my posts here support natural education. Curiosity and life-long learning are native, and instinctual. In fact, not only is education natural, but normal children are sponges. They are absorbing almost everything they experience.
It’s just that they aren’t interested in absorbing what our schools teach. They don’t absorb the content of their dry textbooks. And our students remember almost nothing, not even the most basic information. The problem is pointed up by a related concern, that most educational bureaucrats cannot even define education.
Which goes to my thesis: 13 years of education, or even 17 years, actually interfere with education. It’s artificial education vs. natural education.
Children are curious, and learning is fun for them. They desperately want our encouragement, and will learn almost anything that is designed and delivered around who they are, and how they learn.
And our narrow-minded, regimented, Junker approach to teaching children is exactly the wrong approach.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||I have taken liberty with the translation here; the original quotes specify ‘cuckoo’ rather than ‘songbird’. Because of the negative nature of ‘cuckoo’ in English I changed it.|