Things I Know 279 of 365: School would be better if we weren’t playing school

We should also remember that children (like adults), and above all young children, know and understand much more than they can put into words.

– John Holt

My reading of John Holt’s How Children Learn continues to act as the water filling in the spaces between the rocks of other readings required by my course work. For all of the well-reasoned structures proposed by those readings of requirement, Holt provides a voice of contention, making the case for being people with kids rather than teachers.

He describes the type of talk you might hear from a parent talking through the process of tying shoes with his child. “And I suspect that most people who try to talk this way to children will have so much more teaching in their voices than love and pleasure that they will wind up doing more harm than good.”

It gets me thinking about the kinds of conversations I’m involved in throughout the week. I’ve started paying particular attention to the tones I take with professors and classmates and the tones they take with me.

When I’m speaking, I hear my voice as almost penitent. It’s not quite the same thing as respectful, but more a tone of not wanting to upset the order of things. In some cases, “gee whiz” is implied.

The tones I hear are distant and nice – “We are learning together,” or “I am going to teach you.”

Those aren’t tones I hear when I’m doing learning anywhere other than school.

Holt’s contention that these tones of teaching are doing more harm than good might be a bit inflated. That said, how close can we get to doing work that is real and meaningful if we are playing our roles rather than playing ourselves?

Holt brings his examination back to the topic of quizzing suggesting too much “is likely to make him begin to think that learning does not mean figuring out how things work, but getting and giving answers that please grownups.”

Right now, it leads me to more questions than answers. Are our teacher and student voices the products of assigning work too distant from the learning being done outside of school or do the roles and voices we put on to play school precluding school learning from being more aligned with life learning?


One thought on “Things I Know 279 of 365: School would be better if we weren’t playing school

  1. I haven't read Holt, so I'm just going by the vibe that's in your post. Correct me if I go astray of his meaning or yours. But I'm not crazy about the idea of splitting “school learning” from “life learning” and then using “life learning” as the model that “school learning” should align with. I'm going to state the obvious here. If we could learn everything we needed to learn to flourish in our lives outside of formal schooling or defined relationships of teacher and learner, we wouldn't need to have schools in the first place, nor would we need to stop what we're doing and find someone to explain something to us. Those learning relationships are every much as part of our real lives as the relationships we have with our families, our friends, our professional colleagues, our neighbors, and so on. And just like you can have a rewarding relationship with your family or a destructive one, you can have a rewarding relationship with people who are teaching you (or that you are teaching, or both together) or you can have a destructive one. But what makes a teaching relationship destructive is not necessarily what makes it different than other relationships.

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