I was going to tell you about how a love of learning can lead a young mind toward a fulfilling and fruitful life.
I was going to tell you how a love of learning is a life long endeavor, a way to ensure continued passionate endeavors.
I was going to tell you how our educational system is so broken that it favors rote memorization over actual learning. Learning (!), as in, to be educated! Urgh.
Only I sounded like a know-it-all to my own ears. A little preachy. So I thought I’d settle with a story and a few quotes to make my point because there are people out there who know better than me.
My story…I remember, so distinctly, getting an algebra test back in high school and being called up to the front of the class. My teacher pointed to my test and asked me where I got my answer.
I was mortified, being called up like that…so I sheepishly explained how the X and the Y worked together to divide into the Z, or something like that. She simply stared at me. Accusing. She was convinced I cheated. She sent me to the principle’s office.
Only she couldn’t figure out how I did it. Apparently, I figured out a way to answer the equation differently than she had taught. I got the right answer, but she wasn’t happy about it. And at that point, neither was I.
It’s all my dad’s fault, really. See, I’d ask him for help with my algebra homework, much to his delight. Smarty pants! Only, he’d never tell me the answers. He’d sit there with me as long as it would take and make me figure it out. Algebra is like a puzzle, he’d say, and you just have to find the corner pieces; then it will all fit together.
He neglected to warn me about paving my own way when it came to certain authority figures. Turns out a love of learning can be threatening. Threatening because it has nothing to do with intelligence.
Steve Jobs said of his elementary school, “I encountered authority of a different kind then I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me”
Deborah Stipek and Kathy Seal, who incidentally wrote a book on teaching a love of learning, say that young children are wired to learn, to be curious, to explore. All we need to do is keep those embers burning. Unfortunately, a child’s love of learning steadily declines from 3rd to 9th grade.
John Dewey, philosopher of early childhood education extraordinaire, created an environment where children could experience, engage, think and reflect. His approach was to provide context and conditions where the individual could develop understanding. He didn’t say a thing about test scores (though to be certain, we didn’t endeavor to measure outcomes back when he was philosophizing).
To wit, learning is the process, not the product. It’s not about finding the right answers, but the right questions. And, while it leads to an intelligent mind, the mind doesn’t have to have a fixed intelligence. In fact, the mind doesn’t have a fixed intelligence. A mind can continually learn. Hence the whole ‘life long learning’ thing.
So, what does this mean for you and how do you instill a love of learning in your child?
1. Reward concentration, not the outcome. In fact, try not to interrupt your kiddo when you can tell they are full bodied concentrating.
2. Give positive reinforcement, but sparingly. You’ve heard of the inverse power of praise? Well, it basically means that you can turn your kid into a praise junkie, looking more for the praise than the effort it took to get the praise. Praise the effort. A little bit.
3. Promote independence. How many times have you heard, “I do it MY-self” from your toddler. Back off and let them explore the world, their world, albeit one you’ve created for them with boundaries and safety measures.
4. Promote interdependence. If your kid doesn’t know the answer to something, help them find out where and to whom to ask the right questions. You are not an island of knowledge, and neither is your kid. Go to the library. Conduct an experiment. Consult Mother Nature.
5. Repeat. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. I don’t know the origin of that statement, but it’s the essence of love of learning. Abraham Lincoln suffered over a half-dozen election defeats as well as had a major breakdown before he was elected President. But he became President. Essentially, don’t be afraid of failure because you will fail. And then you won’t.
6. Learn yourself. Be a learner. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. Ask questions. Research answers. Again, you are not an island.
If I could leave you with one impression, though, one takeaway from this Teaching Character post, it’d be this: learning does not equal smarts. A smart kid can memorize all the state capitals, but that doesn’t mean he’s learned a thing about them. In fact, chances are, after the state capital test, he’s gonna forget them. I know I did.
photo credit: andrechinn