Some kids just don’t want to learn.”
I was talking with an education bureaucrat a few years ago, discussing the problems in education and how we might approach them differently, when this comment popped out of her mouth.
A few days later I was talking to a young man, maybe 12, who was struggling in school. In the 5 minutes we spoke, he avalanched me with information, about TV shows, things he’d seen, kids at school, comments his parents had made. He was a very thirsty sponge, he was learning constantly.
He just wasn’t learning about Thomas Jefferson, mathematical exponents, or the parts of a flower.
I thought about that a lot. I still do. It occurred to me that, from a biological standpoint, there was a highly technical scientific phrase to describe a child who does not want to learn:
Wild animal food.
At first consideration, humans are ill-prepared for survival. We have almost no fur to keep us warm. Compared to other primates we are weaklings. Our skin is rather delicate, and we have long, fragile fingers, toes, hand and foot bones that are easily broken (I set them all the time in the ER). We lack sharp teeth, and we are not particularly fast runners.
All of these weaknesses are unimportant, however, because we have developed tools and technologies which more than compensate. We build fires for warmth, and wear skins and woven cloth to keep us warm and to protect our skin. Our relative weaknesses and lack of speed are compensated for by knives, spears and arrows, which fly faster than the swift, and which make us deadlier than the great white, the grizzly, and even the lion’s pride.
This is because the signal strength that allows humanity to dominate the planet resides, not in our arms or legs or teeth or claws, but above our eyes. Humanity represents an entirely new category of animal that triumphs by learning, thinking, and innovating.
Embedded deeply in her DNA, every normal child has the same ability, the same survival instinct: learn, learn quickly, learn constantly.
Children learn all the time. It’s just that our schools are designed to discourage it. Our educational paradigms are not designed around the natural curiosity of children, but around the joyless authority of the textbook.
And so we frequently end up with education that is a form of intellectual abuse.
Picture courtesy CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr.com.