As a general rule, I avoid the “Comments” section of most articles and blog posts. (Notable exceptions are Lisa Nielsen’s Facebook group to which I belong, where the comments are almost always thoughtful, and disagreements are respectful and informative.) However, I did comment on a HuffPost article about NYC bans on cellphones in schools and the consequences. Or rather, I responded to a comment by someone who was critical of Lisa Nielsen’s comment about the article. You can see the comment thread here, if you are interested.
Basically the commenter was all for a cell phone ban and very opposed to anything resembling self-directed learning. Said allowing kids to learn whatever they want was a ridiculous notion; they aren’t developed enough to do that and that brain science would somehow bear this out. Lots of ranting about the use of brain science in teaching methods. Lots of “Are you kidding me?!”
In my comment I mentioned that all kids are great at self-directed learning; learning to walk and talk at their own pace, etc. and that for many it is only in school that they lose their love of learning and become convinced that they need to be ‘taught’. I recommended John Holt’s “How Children Learn” and “How Children Fail” and urged the critic to keep an open mind.
Maybe that was my mistake.
In his response to me, he said:
“All of eductaion is based on research by brain specialists, we also call some of them psychologists, learning psychology has been around for a long time. Developmental stages, learning readiness, learning styles, are all products of brain specialists. Are YOU kidding! You certainly don’t have an open mind, is reading your book leading to your self-righteousness?”
I really should stay away from comment threads.
But I didn’t. So here we go.
My first reaction to such criticism is to think, “Am I being close-minded? Is it self-righteous of me to champion self-directed learning?” The dictionary defines self-righteous as “excessively or hypocritically pious”, and although I cannot claim to being 100% free of such a designation, I certainly hope it does not define me in general.
Upon several more readings of my critic’s comment (and his comments to others, all equally critical and, if I may say so, condescending) I decided this is an angry person. He is a teacher, apparently, and resents anyone talking about school – which he equates with education – as the problem. He told several people (including Pat Farenga, who also commented) that they were arrogant to criticize the very educational system that “made them”. His comment that perhaps reading “my” = John Holt’s, book was “making me self-righteous” was… puzzling. The only thing I can say is that I doubt this guy has ever read any of Holt’s works.
He says that “all of education is based on research by brain scientists = psychologists.” If he means all “schooling” then he may be right, but I wouldn’t consider that a stunning endorsement for schools. John Gatto talks a lot about the influence of psychology in schools in his book, “The Underground History of American Education” and it’s not a pretty sight. The education that my kids – and at least a few hundred thousand more self-directed kids just like them – are receiving is not based on a psychologist’s view of developmental stages and learning readiness.
If raising happy kids who are passionate and curious about the world they live in makes me closed minded, then so be it. If looking back on my own public school ‘education’ and realizing that most of what I know is in spite of it and not because of it makes me close-minded, I stand guilty as charged. If wanting to remind others about our great capacity for self-directed learning is arrogant; if reading and recommending John Holt’s books makes me self-righteous?
Then here I am. Close-minded, self-righteous me.