by Christopher Chase
“Educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all.” ~Aristotle
Fifteen years ago, George Bush introduced No Child Left Behind, which increased pressure on children and teachers, with nationwide standardized testing. President Obama promised to change that, but instead gave us Common Core and Race to the Top.
Stress, anxiety and boredom increased, many children began to dislike school even more. And nothing was done to address wealth inequality, that children from poor communities had less money and resources for their schools.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic (in Finland) children were excelling. Why? Because teachers were encouraged to be innovative, money was provided for public education and students were allowed to enjoy themselves, to learn things together and independently. They have been given the freedom to learn, without excessive homework and standardized testing. Children are natural born learners- curious, sociable, skillful, joyful, compassionate and creative by nature. Their minds are open and flexible, their hearts trusting and generous. They come into the world with brains designed to learn from their local environment, to interact skillfully with the people and objects that surround them.
Maria Montessori understood this, and taught that the role of educators is to organize learning environments so that they facilitate self-discovery, creativity, concentration and collaborative exploration.
Put another way, children learn best when learning is playful, social, interesting and self-directed. There is no need for constant control, monitoring, external rewards and punishments. In fact, such authoritarian efforts tend to deter children’s learning, deaden their natural motivation and curiosity.
Young people enjoy learning when it is meaningful and collaborative. They will put time and effort into mastering skills and helping one another. They have a natural desire to communicate, to be creative, competent, sociable and successful.
Adults have an important role to play with this, but attempts to over-control the natural learning process will immediately begin to snuff it out. Rigid expectations, testing and comparisons are also harmful, as no two children will learn in the exact same way or at the same rate.
Adults need to be good role models and provide extra help for those who are struggling, but this should be done with love, respect and good intentions. Bottom line, children lose interest when adults are too rigid, demanding and controlling. Such learning experiences become miseducative, as John Dewey put it.
The bottom line, children need to be free to learn.