One of the most insidious aspects of our compulsory schooling system, in my opinion, is the idea that certain things must be learned between the ages of 5 and 18 or…what? Be lost to us forever?
If I was prone to swearing on my blog, this would be where I tell you what I think of that idea in my best Brooklyn-ese. (No, I’m not a native, but I’ve picked up a few things in my nearly 25 years in the city.)
It’s almost summer, which means it’s almost time for the yearly hand-wringing over all the valuable information children have been taught but will “forget” during their two months off from school.
The idea that some things must be learned between the ages of 5-18 serves to exacerbate the angst over summer “learning loss”, and so longer school days and years get discussed, enrollment in summer enrichment (i.e. summer school) programs boom, and all manner of private tutors and learning centers reap the profits.
The truth of the matter is that if something is forgotten over the summer it was never learned in the first place. A high grade on a test does not prove that learning has happened; retention in short term memory has happened in order to do well on the test, but that’s not the same thing as learning.
If learning hasn’t happened it’s probably because the subject matter was of no interest to the person being “taught”. Ask any kid (or adult, for that matter) about their favorite book, game or movie and it doesn’t matter how long ago they read, played or saw it, they will regale you with details of the things that make it great. It is forever embedded in their long term memory – it was learned and cannot be dislodged by two months of swimming at the pool, riding bikes or binge watching Parks & Rec on Netflix.
Which takes us back to the original issue – the idea that certain things must be learned before the age of 18, or a productive and successful life is forever out of reach. Most of us have learned far more since leaving school than we ever retained and forgot while serving our time within those walls. And for the most part, we have not been hampered in our lives because of it.
If there is one thing I wish that our education system would admit, it is that people do not retain information about things in which they have no interest. And second (so two things I wish they would admit, not one), that if a person is or becomes interested in a subject, they will learn it quickly and thoroughly, no matter what their age. Our ability to learn, which is inextricably attached to the desire to learn, has no expiration date.
And isn’t learning, real learning that has nothing to do with tests or grades, what life – all of life – should be about?