I have criticized public schools on this blog
previously, usually staying away from the politics and focusing on the
schooling process. Not to worry, this is
a continuation of that approach. The
difference here is that the brain science and the study of neuroplasticity is
catching up with the argument for unschooling, or at least changing the school
I recently finished the book The Brain That Changes Itself
by Norman Doidge and I would suggest it to anyone wanting a better
understanding of the brain science.
That said, brain plasticity and the associated studies
outline three principles to how the brain learns best:
Learning is most effective when it is related to life
Learning should be done in increments
Learning should be concentrated and mass practiced
So based on these principles derived from studies of brain
plasticity and learning, do standard approaches to schooling fit?
Learning done in increments?
Sure, this seems like a bit of a no brainer. Even if you try to give someone an umbrella
view of a topic, the learning is always incremental. Stated simply, you can’t learn everything at
Is schooling typically ‘related to life’? Schools and teachers try to make this happen
with ‘examples’ but to me this is where the problems start to arise. All of the attempts to create a fake reality
which mimics the so-called ‘real world’ is known to be fake and does not have
that same tie to ‘life’.
For instance, if a student learned about business and
inventory and pricing by working in a store, that is far more powerful and that
reading a book about business. It
immerses the student in the subject and it is not just related to life. It IS life.
Now you may be thinking, “That’s nice Sean,
but you can’t have every student working in a store.” True, but my point is to point out why
schools fail so we can move in a direction which makes sense, something no
amount of ‘standards’ and ‘testing’ can do.
The third principle regarding concentrated and mass
practiced learning is where schools fail most.
The whole approach of class subjects being
taught for 50 minutes and then stopped so the student can go to a new subject
is absolutely horrible in this regard.
For instance, when people learn French, who will learn
faster and more thorough, someone who moves to France
or someone listening to a French class for 45 minutes on their way to
work? It sounds ridiculous I know, but
that is the equivalent of what schools do with a school day by design!
Schools chop subjects up into 45 minute segments and then
wonder why it takes soooooo long for students to pick up concepts and why they
forget them just as fast. It’s
because the approach is inefficient (to say it kindly) based
on brain science.
But worse, this chopped up learning can actually create a sense
If you think I am being extreme, how many of you want your
kids to be ‘life long learners’? How
many of you have read a book or learned a new skill or taken up a new hobby in
the past 2 years? Why?
Even for myself, school and college was drudgery and it took
me a number of years to re-discover my love of learning and creativity and sense
of brain ownership. Those had been
destroyed, or at least put to sleep, by accepted school pedagogy.
So what would be better you may ask? The real world. This is why I find unschooling, as it is
called, so compelling. It is actually
what people will do the rest of their lives after K-12 is over. At the very least we need to re-think taking
a bunch of subjects at once, and think it terms of 3 to 6 month projects or
apprenticeships or even REAL individualized education.
I think there is a whole book which could be written on this
subject and I will continue to mine salient points. Hopefully, this can be a start to a
re-thinking of exactly why schools are so terribly mediocre.