Myths About Learning

A lot of conversations between education and learning at home in our age might be almost hysterical if they didn't deal with the lives of so many. Granted, things sound like they have improved dramatically since the early days of home schooling, but it is still rather similar to when teaching colleagues found out our family would be learning at home after my final teaching contract ended. If you are a family learning person, you can probably guess the dialogue, as it may be etched into your memory by this point. Some teachers were good with the idea, but there was a majority of notable concern about not knowing the curriculum for my son's age group.

On one hand, the thought is appreciated. You could give people credit for wanting the best for others, but that isn't what most of this discourse is about. The real problem is that the engagement over the subject is hopelessly misplaced.

Why did it get to this? Instead of being about learning, which should be the center of concern, most talk ends up in a battle between two things. On one side is the way we do things and on the other is, what, maybe the way we "don't" do things. The scenario looks like the state of coffee. Seriously, stick with me here.

Whether you are interested in coffee or not, you should watch, What You Didn't Know About Coffee. In it, Ashton Yaron talks about coffee roasting techniques. To be honest, I don't have the technical knowledge to critique his ideas about roasting, but look at his presentation about coffee production and you should see a remarkable parallel to our world's relationship with learning.

He talks about the influence that coffee has and counters that, ". . .yet, 95% of the roasted coffee in the world is 100% old, stale and dead. Coffee, once roasted, is a fresh, living food and it loses its vitality and dies in about a week. . ." (0:36). He is making the case that, instead of doing things the way we are focusing on storing and shipping, we should be making an accessible way for people to roast coffee themselves. Further, he goes on to point out that, ". . .in our desire to make this special drink available to the masses, we've sacrificed quality for quantity" (1:43). To summarize, he later states, ". . .roasted coffee is a fresh food, it should be treated that way" (3:27). Simply substitute "learning" for "roasted coffee" in most of these quotes and you should get the idea.

But there is more. In his talk,The Why About Coffee Development, (this one is pretty long and detailed, you decide based on your coffee commitment) Samuel Gurel characterizes three types of coffee. The two major ones are commercial and estate. Commercial coffee is mass produced and low quality, so it gets a low price (it also typically does not provide coffee farmers with a living-level wage). Estate coffee is high quality and usually irregular, but it is highly desired for its character, thus getting top prices.

So put into the coffee metaphor, our conversation about learning from earlier might be like Folger's workers telling Starbucks workers that they are doing it incorrectly. Though the estate coffee provides a sustainable ecosystem-- maybe supporting organic-- and bringing in living wages for workers, the supporters of the mass-produced coffee take issue that the others are not following the standard methods of maintaining standards (yes the word "standard" was intentionally used twice in that sentence). It's like complaining about whether the jots have been jotted and the tittles have been, well, whatever one does to complete a tittle. The direction of where the conversation should be has been totally derailed in terms of relevance.

To pull this all together, and a bit closer to learning, consider Sir Ken Robinson's "Bring on the Learning Revolution". You should definitely watch this one. First, he demonstrates that the race is about presuppositions. To this, Sir Ken states, ". . .innovation. . .means challenging the things we take for granted" (4:10). He goes on to note that we also relate to learning in a way that does not fit our place in time. Here, he uses a great quote from Abraham Lincoln (5:30) and concludes later that, ". . .the ideas we have in our minds have been formed by previous centuries and are still hypnotized by them" (5:50).

So between coffee and Ken, there are a number of things we can take away about current thinking on learning. First is that learning is being regarded with an obsolete mindset that has become status quo. Next, because the model has been widely accepted, it maintains a resistance to change. Then, as a result, learning is handled in an way that does not fit it's true nature. In effect, killing something that should be alive and vibrant.

Thoughts and inferences from some rather unusual and different sources have been brought together here, so it may seem a bit complex. The point of it is that, regardless of what side we may be on, mass education has commandeered our way of relating to learning. Whether it be in the terms we accept, the complete way of seeing it, or both, everything is colored.

Because we have been acculturated to mass education for so long, it is like we have come to accept "school" and "education" as synonyms for, or representatives of "learning", which they are not. This often unintended bias also has unintended consequences. Through it, we end up accepting myths about learning which especially do not fit the context of family learning and can render it less effective than it should be. And when we do something new (like homeschooling), we generally fall back on the familiar as a starting point.

Because of the great impact I believe this has, a new series on LearningWilds is going to begin in order to help counter the problem. I hope that you will find "Myths About Learning" helpful in consideration and planning of learning for your family. Look for articles and ideas under "philosophy" over the coming months.

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