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The Myths of Education:
Why Celebration Education Does What It Does
We provide Adventure,
which inspires Creativity,
and leads to Possibility.
Every child has their own genius. We inspire that genius by allowing each child to take the lead in their learning experiences, drawing on their innate learning tools of curiosity, exploration, and creativity. To enhance those experiences, we provide rich learning opportunities in the form of an inspiring environment, access to interesting materials, varied classes, and plentiful field trips - all tied together with exciting themes.
To listen to this article in a speech, go here: http://youtu.be/Z6hxnSmsoDM
What do these people have in common?
Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, C.S. Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Claude Monet, Florence Nightingale, Beatrix Potter, Franklin
D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, Martha Washington, Phyllis Wheatley, Laura
Ingalls Wilder, Serena & Venus Williams, Orville & Wilbur Wright, John Quincy Adams, Louisa May Alcott, Hans Christian
Anderson, Susan B. Anthony, Alexander Graham Bell, James Buchanan, Pearl Buck, Andrew Carnegie, George Washington
Carver, Charles Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Samuel Clemens, Pierre Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Thomas
Edison, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin
Besides the fact that each of them displayed some very impressive skills, an interesting thing about all these people is that they were all educated outside of traditional schooling methods.
When I was in school and would learn about people like this, I recall how we were told (with a tone of awe) how amazing it is that these people were able to accomplish so much despite their lack of formal education. But over my years involved with education and learning, I’ve come to learn the truth about these people: they were able to accomplish so much because of their lack of formal education.
You see, if all you want is to be just like everyone else, all you need to do is to go ahead and do what everyone else does. But in order to become something different from everyone else, it is required that you do things differently. So rather than standardizing education, and thus standardizing children, a more powerful approach to education is to help each child find their uniqueness and to expand on their own personal genius.
Unfortunately, throughout history, mainstream education has had as their objective to make a homogeneous (pronounced homo-genius) society, when what we should seek to do is to inspire a society of geniuses.
Take a look at these advances over the last 100 years:
Transportation in 1910: Transportation today:
Communication in 1842: Communication today:
1897 Classroom: Classroom today:
As you can see, education as a whole has not yet entered this century. There are some great programs out there, but the majority of learning situations still uphold some of the largest myths ever placed on education.
Here are some of these myths that are keeping schools in the last century.
Myth #1: A safe campus equals a good learning environment.
Truth is, there's a lot more to a school house than physical safety. How do the
students feel as they enter the campus?
In addition to being physically safe, schools should be emotionally safe. Emotion
is the gatekeeper to learning. Students should associate positive emotions to
their learning experiences.
School should be a place of possibility, creativity, hope, and challenge. Children
should be safe from belittling by teachers and bullying from peers. Further, the
environment should be welcoming, to the point that it is a place where students
want to be. The goal would be for the students have these emotions as they
enter the campus. “I feel...
Like everything on Earth just got a little bit better.”
Like I am home.”
Like living here, a magical place full of happiness.”
The facility itself should be inspiring and give the feeling that anything is possible.
School should also introduce learning to the student. The campus can be an enriched environment that reflects what is being taught. Rooms should be simple, uncluttered, and inspiring.
To give the students a connection to the world, school should have outdoor space where they have plenty of room to run about. This outdoor space should also have access to nature – there should be shade trees, garden areas, and real dirt for the children to explore!
Myth #2: Compulsory education means that all children will learn.
Truth is, children are natural learners and don't need to be forced to learn.
Students should actually get to choose the projects that they would like to do. This is one
of those golden principles that is rarely utilized.
Instead of offering bland, one-size-fits-all worksheets, we should offer a smorgasbord of
What is amazing is how accurately children are able to choose the material that suits them.
Projects that are too easy for them are boring. Children want to choose something that’s
new for them, but not too difficult. They are good at choosing activities that are right at
their learning level.
Students will also choose topics and projects that are of great interest to themselves.
Because of this, they'll learn the topics faster because they're interested. With these
meaningful experiences, they will remember it for longer.
Given the opportunity to learn what they want, you may be surprised that students will come to love learning and will happily delve into topics. Therefore, it is also important that we allow adequate time for the students to learn.
Rather than giving a child a worksheet and ten minutes to fill it out, children should be allowed to investigate a subject for as long as they like, often extending their research and project beyond expectations.
Talking about being a teacher, John Taylor Gatto said, “I teach kids to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of. The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything...? Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.”
Dividing all our learning up into flavor-less bite-sized pieces is like eating a cake one ingredient at a time. That would be icky! Rather, when we allow children to choose their own learning experiences, they're not going to choose single ingredients, but they will have a much richer experience, where all school subjects are fair game. It so much more meaningful this way!
So don't limit their learning – let them go! Allow them to master a topic. Years ago, homeschool mom Karen Kindrick Cox allowed her children to study caves. They decided to turn their bathroom into a cave. The transformation was long and involved. When completed, the new environment was allowed to stay for two weeks, until the children we satisfied with what they had done and learned. Don't limit the learning!
Myth #3: Words alone equals intelligence.
Truth is, there are multiple intelligences.
While words are immensely important, they are not the only form of intelligence that matters. In most schools, only linguistic and mathematic intelligences are valued. Perhaps because they are the easiest types of intelligence to measure.
Psychologist Howard Gardner has taught us that there are many intelligences that are valuable and also indicate success in life. These intelligences include linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and natural intelligences.
So while schools spend so much time working on only two of the intelligences, children who possess different intelligences are labeled as learning delayed. But in reality, if all students are allowed to learn within their own intelligences, then they are using their brains the way they learn most naturally. When their brains are used within their dominant intelligences, then all intelligences are improved.
Myth #4: More deskwork equals more learning.
Truth is, students need to move!
People assume that the longer a student spends sitting “on task” at a desk, the more learning is happening. In reality, after sitting for a few minutes, the brain’s ability to process information is greatly reduced. The students should not sit for long, but should be allowed to move about the room and be active participants in the learning process.
Sitting at a desk, the student is mostly dealing with one form of learning – symbols. These symbols are the letters and numbers that make up the textbooks and workbooks that most children are consigned to use. But there are some real downfalls to relying on symbols only. For example, read the following paragraph:
These are spiny, hard-skinned animals that live on the rocky sea floor. These invertebrates are NOT fish; they are echinoderms. They move very slowly along the seabed, using hundreds of tiny tube feet. There are over 2,000 different species of worldwide.
Did you guess sea star or star fish? You would be right. But most people imagine something more like a sea cucumber.
Words alone can be confusing and may not give a clear image of a subject. Better is if the students
could also have pictures of the subject. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So much
more can be learned with an image of the item.
Yet better than a picture would be is if a teacher takes the time to present a life-like representation
of the item, the learning is deeper. Let's imagine the teacher made a sea star out of sand paper. The
students may be able to feel the texture and perhaps the teacher could have a removable flap where
the students could see what might be inside the sea star.
Better than a likeness of an item
would be if the teacher can show
the real object. This would have
the most accurate information
about what a sea star looks like,
feels like, smells like, etc.
Even better would be if the teacher could immerse the students in the subject by creating a life-like sea star environment. The room could look like a beach and she could bring in a touch tank and allow the students to touch living sea stars.
Finally, the ultimate way to learn about a topic is to actually go to the real thing in its natural setting. When students visit a tide pool at the ocean, the learning is profound. They are learning with all their senses, and they are also learning so much about the environment that a sea star exists in. These are the things that the students will go home and tell Mom about. When Susie comes home and says, “Did you know that…” or “Guess what I saw?” This is when the student is spontaneously sharing the things that she learned that day. Also, after being exposed to the subject in such a profound way, the child is more likely to take an interest in the subject and choose to learn more, often in the form of books. They like to build on what they are familiar with.
Myth #5: Passed tests means learning happened.
Truth is, tests are poor assessment tools.
According to educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, giving multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank tests
are the lowest form of assessing a student’s understanding of a subject. Additionally, a student who
prepares for such superficial learning assessments are less likely to have a truly thorough learning
experience with the material.
When students are only required to regurgitate simple facts about the covered material, they are missing
out on much deeper learning experiences, ones that create lasting memories of the topic.
Take a look at my version of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. In comparing assessment
strategies to an iceberg, you can see how simple knowledge and comprehension assessments are only
the tip of the iceberg of potential learning experiences.
To create more meaningful learning and assessments, we can:
Allow the students to use the information by applying it to real-life experiences.
Allow the students analyze the material. Can it be graphed? Dissected? How does this information relate to other topics?
Allow the students to change the use of the information. Can it be used applied to a different setting? Can it be used in conjunction with other information? How can the information be synthesized? Is there another way to express the information?
Allow the students to evaluate the subject. Is it valuable? Is it necessary? Is it even worth studying? Do you want to study it some more?
Give your children the opportunity to show their work in the form of projects and activities that relate to the topic. Let the learning come to life. As they are given these deeper experiences, they just might need to study the topic more deeply. Diving down deeper, students are given the chance to really come to know a topic. It is more meaningful and remembered for longer.
The biggest drawback to these different assessments is that they are more difficult to quantify how much learning has been accomplished. This is the main reason why schools rarely leave the tip of the iceberg.
My personal favorite reason to use these meaningful approaches is because the students are more likely to take an interest in the topic and to have a desire to know more and master subjects. It turns them into autodidacts and lifelong learners!!
Myth #6: High standards means no child is left behind.
Truth is, there are no standard children.
Some people feel that the first step to increase a child's intelligence is to raise the standards and then to make sure that all children perform according to those standards.
But standards – no matter how high – are nothing more than a compilation of information that the average child should be able to learn within a given year. Personally, I'm not interested in a classroom of average children. I believe that there is no such thing as a standard child. Even if there were, I wouldn't want my child to be standardized! Sadly, with the “no child left behind” attitude, the schools spend way too many resources on making sure that the children do not fall behind. This creates a situation where children are constantly struggling to keep up. I believe that every child has special abilities. But if all their time is spent in catching up, they won't have time to enhance their special skills that make them unique. And if their special abilities continue to be ignored, they may lose those talents.
Now I'm not saying that we should not have high expectations. We should. Children tend to live up to our expectations. We just need to stay away from standardizing those expectations. When we do we limit our children – both our special needs children and our gifted students.
Read this fable to more fully understand what standards really do to children:
The Animal School
A Fable by George Reavis
Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.
The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.
The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.
The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.
The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.
At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.
The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.
Does this fable have a moral?
Myth #7: More school means success.
Truth is, schooling is helpful but not necessary for success.
This is where we differentiate between schooling and learning. A good education can translate into success in life, but the connection between more time spent in school and success in life is weak.
From preschool and up, children are told they need to do well in school so that they can go to a good college, so that they can get a good job. We all know this doctrine, and many feel that to preach otherwise is akin to child abuse.
But where does it really get us? Students retire from school, never wanting to study again in their lives. They aim to get that good 9-5 job, get a family, then settle in to a life of luxury, materialism, and complaining about the weather. Outside of their job and home, their connection to the world is whatever comes to them on TV or the Internet. They live for the weekend, entertainment, fashion, and comfort. They are the obedient and faithful consumers they were trained to be. They have been socialized.
In contrast, the individuals who choose to step outside the expected norms are the ones who seem happier. These are the they who are less likely to follow the trends, but to set them. They are the ones who are in a position to really make a difference in the world.
Children should have the opportunity to see beyond the day-to-day life of a consumer and look forward to a much richer life as a contributor. Contributing is such a powerful motivator. Yet children should not have to wait until they're grown to make a difference. They should be free to get involved now. Some of the most profound experiences in their young lives can be had by striking out and doing dynamic things today. Now is the time for them to start taking part in the stuff that really means something to themselves and to the world. That's when a student can get a sense that he is an important individual. That he is valued for his abilities. He can gain the confidence to try something new. To reach out of his comfort zones and to stand out in the crowd. This is the education that is possible and this is the education that our children deserve.
Myth #8: Homework means the material will be learned.
Truth is, the learning brain needs immediate feedback. Delayed feedback can slow learning.
In traditional schools, a student learns a concept one day, does the homework for it that night, turns it in the next day, and the teacher takes it home to correct it that night, and the assignment is returned to the student the following day – two whole days after the work is done. Brain research has taught us that the longer incorrect information stays in the brain, the harder it is to correct it. Additionally, by the time feedback is given on the homework, the student no longer has an interest in the assignment, as the class has moved on, whether or not the material was actually learned. Getting feedback on the spot saves time and confusion. The correct answer should be reinforced right away.
Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy has proposed a new approach to learning. He calls it a “flipped classroom.” What Salman recommends is that students first use the Internet to learn topics, then time at school could be used for “homework” time. That way, when the students are practicing what they learn, they can get the immediate feedback from their teacher, thus excelling the learning experience.
Myth #9: Forced children are smart children.
Truth is, fear is a poor motivator.
I've had credentialed teachers tell me about how important it is to keep a tight reign on the students because if you don't have a quiet and orderly classroom, nobody's going to learn anything. So they instigate systems to keep the children behaved. These include rewards and punishments.
I find that there are three main ways that students – or anyone – are motivated.
The lowest form is through threats. Unfortunately, fear of punishments is a bad motivator. These fears can cause undue stress and the brain does not function as well in situations of stress and fear. Children should be free from judgments in the form of testing, grading, and categorizing by ability.
A better motivator than fear of punishment is hope for reward. Yet, this can also inhibit learning. I once learned this lesson the hard way. When my youngest son was perhaps five, he enjoyed drawing fire and he did it well for his age. One time he drew a flame that was very creative. I complimented him on that particular flame. What a mistake! Unfortunately, all the subsequent flames he drew were all the same creative flame. Over and over. For months the only flames he drew were all patterned after the one I complimented. His creativity was stunted because he liked the positive attention I gave him.
The two motivators I have mentioned so far are both extrinsic motivators.
The final motivator I'd like to share is an intrinsic motivator. It is that children will do the right thing because it's the right thing to do.
The brain is a self-congratulator. We feel good when we do what's right and do it well. We should provide opportunities for our children to make their own choices so that they may have the opportunity learn and practice this self-motivation.
In the end, self-motivation is more important to the student than even than the content of the information presented in a quiet classroom. The information in the classroom will be forgotten, but self-motivation is a life-long skill that can apply to success in all areas of life, including education.
They will drive themselves to know more.
Myth #10: Credentialed teachers means the children will be taught well.
Truth is, children learn more from experience, environment, parents and peers.
We have already discussed how children learn from their own experiences and from the environment.
Children are always learning from their parents. They learn to speak English from their parents. It's an immersion program. Surprisingly, it's just about as easy for a child to learn to read the English language from their parents, if they will immerse their child in the printed language.
A credentialed teacher is trained to teach a large group of children all at the same time. They simply don't have time to give individualized attention. Parents have a very small number of children to teach. In this situation, the students get a lot more one-on-one attention. This individual attention is far more valuable than all the degrees a teacher might have.
It can be quite surprising how much children can learn from their peers. In most schools, children helping each other is called cheating. Those schools are missing out on a the powerful tool called collaboration. It is amazing to see the output from students of varying abilities and interests working together.
Professor Sugata Mitra did an experiment where children in India are given free and public access to computers and the Internet. The children were not taught how to use the computers, but they were allowed to explore and learn on their own. Additionally, as individual children learned how to do things, they enjoyed sharing their findings with their friends. In this environment, the children:
Became computer literate on their own.
Taught themselves enough English to use email, chat and search engines.
Learned to search the Internet for answers.
Improve their English pronunciation on their own.
Improved their mathematics and science scores in school.
Answer examination questions several years ahead of time.
Changed their social interaction skills and value systems.
Formed independent opinions and were able to detect indoctrination.
Myth #11: Learning is hard, boring work.
Truth is, learning is fun! It is the excitement of the hunt! If you're not having fun in your learning, you're missing out!
When children are happy and having fun, they are in a prime position to learn. Emotion is the gatekeeper to learning. Making learning fun ensures increased interest in a topic and the information becomes more memorable.
We all love theme parks and theme restaurants. Why not themed learning? What are your children interested in? Most if not all your learning experiences can be influenced by the theme. When new information is juxtaposed with things they already love -- such as a favorite topic, a theme park or popular computer game -- their interest is heightened.
When learning and fun are synonymous, students come to really love learning – even the hard stuff!
There was a time when the artist Michelangelo was 15 and he was working on a sculpture. He was invited by a friend to go on a hunt. Michelangelo turned down the opportunity. After being chided by his friend, Michelangelo said, "For me, marble has the excitement of the hunt." Because of his deep interest in sculpture, Michelangelo would rather work than play. The same thing can happen with learning. With true interest in a topic a child may have the opportunity to enjoy the excitement of the hunt themselves. What can they discover, uncover, create and find?
It's time to set the children free and let them learn!
Myth #12: It's impossible to change schools.
Truth is, nothing is impossible, as long as there are people who really care.
I admit that the majority of schools are far from being ready to make drastic changes. But the rules are about to change. In today’s economy, people will need to adapt to the new circumstance.
Like the many gifted people who used alternative education in the past, more and more families are choosing alternative learning environments for their children today.
We don't have to wait around for someday when things change. We have children with needs today! The future of education has already begun and it's exciting!
Who is ready to make a difference for a child today?