I Learn, Therefore I Am


Stupidity is to doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Equally stupid is claiming, either implicitly or explicitly, to be an expert in something and then coming up with a plan to break it…..and thereafter coming up with another plan to fix the thing you had broken!

We have to teach children to learn how to learn” seems to me to be one of those completely stupid statements that is popular these days.

Children have a natural ability and inclination to learn. Children are naturally curious and naturally creative. Put a toddler in a room full of other children with books, crayons, paper and toys and let them off; watch what happens.

Aristotle said that ‘man was a political animal’. He was only partly correct. More than anything else, Man is a learning animal. We learn every moment of every day. We learn even when we are asleep. Learning is our natural inclination towards the world we in habit. We may or may not be a ‘blank slate’ when we are born but one thing is clear – our experiences continually shape and reshape us in the world.  We can not help but learn. There is no escape from learning. We can argue over good learning or bad learning. But either way, it is learning. The only time we stop learning is when we expire. I learn, therefore I am.

We do not have to teach children to learn how to learn. What we need to do is come up with a school system that doesn’t drive the natural inclination to learn out of them. We need to nurture children’s natural ability to learn.

I think a national curriculum is important. I am a firm believer in children learning a set of age-appropriate skills and a healthy dollop of knowledge (common or garden variety – the stuff that was all the rage before we came up with ‘child-centred education’ (which was never anything of the sort) but I digress….). But we have to absolutely avoid turning the school experience in to a dull treadmill of repetitive (and often unnecessary) homework, and drills.

If we say we need to teach children to learn how to learn, we have to question what has gone wrong, initially at primary level, to drive the natural ability to learn out of children.

It’s not the teachers, that’s for sure; primary school teachers are some of the most ethical, hard-working and committed professionals I know. It could be that the curriculum wouldn’t be so burdensome if class sizes were smaller. Funding is clearly a significant factor. There may be others.

But it is pointless to drive the ‘learn how to learn’ fad without looking at how the State has failed primary schools in Ireland. It’s little more than a smokescreen for other policy failures. In fact, it is stupid.
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Update: I found this interesting video of Noam Chomsky commenting on John Dewey; he raises some interesting points.

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