Schooling and learning: do they really go together like bread and butter?

Peanut Butter and Jelly, Bacon and Eggs, Abbott and Costello AND Schooling and Learning just fit. How can you have one without the other? We really cannot imagine what the world would be like without school?  The institution of schooling has been so much a part of our lives to suggest a world without school and for that matter without teachers is shocking.  How would anyone learn math or learn to read? How would we as a society transfer our values and norms?  What would would we do with kids all day? Who would take care of them?  What would politicians reform?

But that is just what a researcher has done with his very interesting “Hole in the Wall” project.  Dr. Sugata Mitra decided to go to very rural parts of India and simply place a computer in a wall and he left. What happened was something amazing.  The area he left the computers were in very rural remote villages devoid of any technology.  No smart phones, no computers, often no running water or electricity.  The kids he left these computers with had never ever seen a computer or even heard about the Internet, yet in a few weeks they were able to manipulate the computer as proficient as a secretary. They were able to access programs, surf the Internet, post on social media even without a keyboard (not sure many of us could do that) and did this all in English which is not their native language!

Dr. Mitra then tried to disprove his own theory around what he calls MIE (Minimally Invasive Education) that kids can learn without teachers by placing a computer that dealt with replication of DNA.  The level of complexity rivaled a graduate level course in Biochemistry.  He was convinced when he returned the kids would have given up and not learned much about DNA replication.  Much to his surprise they did learn about DNA Replication and they did not give up — despite the fact it was not in their native language.  See his TED talk and website by clicking the links:

When I first heard about this project and Dr. Mitra’s results it was surprising — until I thought about kids.   I have been saying for some time now that schools suck the curiosity out of kids — and — sap all the fun out of learning.  Go to any Kindergarten through second grade classroom and watch the excitement and motivation for learning by all the kids.  If you ask a question all the hands shoot up….they love new things…..they play….they problem solve…they love school.  Compare that to any 7th grade classroom with zombie-like-students who are dutifully completing high stakes test, complaining about homework, not very motivated and simply do not like school.  What happened? Why do we accept this?

Believe me as a teacher, you can ignite that innate curiosity and excitement with the right projects at any age.  I have seen and experienced it many many times.  What often prevents this from happening on a regular basis is our obsession with testing and accountability.  What is ironic at least to me is, that we are trying to keep schools and teachers accountable and in the process we are crushing kids natural curiosity and love of learning.  I guess that is what some politicians would call collateral damage?

We have created an anti-intellectual place that emphasizes grades over learning.  Schools still organize kids by age not ability — and — we still try to streamline learning into neat containers to be learned when we deem appropriate.  What the “Hole in the Wall” project says to me is that our current structure and organization of school may not meet the needs of our kids.  Kids and for that matter adults are naturally curious and love to learn.  We need to remove any and all processes and rules that inhibit this naturally occurring phenomenon.  School should be a highly charged intellectual place that kids explore and learn not only from teachers, but from each other without placing artificial limits on when or how you can learn.


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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