As a proud soccer mom of 2, besides going to 2 practices per week, I also have the pleasure of going to the Saturday games. 2 of them, yes; at different times, in different locations; my kids love it so we just go with the flow and enjoy it too.
Anyway, this past week, as I was watching my 5-year-old’s game, I had this mom sitting next to me with her son (around 7-year-old kid); they were going over a textbook, reviewing a chapter on biology. She was asking him questions, and he was answering. I was so interested in their conversation, carefully listening, with my eyes focused on the game so they wouldn’t think I was a nosy momma. The mom asks the boy a question from the book and the boy starts giving his answer: a complex and playful answer, where he was analyzing, making hypotheses, stating his own arguments – and even making up some facts – trying to prove he really understood the lesson and could explain it in his own words. To which the mom replied, “Hey, disregard all prior knowledge you have about this in your mind, and just stick to the information you are provided in the textbook; that’s the answer you have to give”. The 5-year-old abruptly stopped and resumed regurgitating information.
It was at that point where I felt challenged to the core. I missed my son’s goalie performance as I was trying to figure out how to react (or not), or how to process the scene I was witnessing… I simply sat still. The kid gave an amazing response, using his knowledge, common sense, creativity, imagination; all of this tied together into an explanation that made total sense and he was cold-heartedly shut down…
But then I realized this is not her fault. This mom is just doing what she thinks is best for her child. She is preparing him for a test at a school where children are evaluated in this way. Blame it on the system. Having realized that, I chilled and turned my head back into the game, only to find out my son’s team had scored again. Yay! And I missed it. Darn.
This whole situation made me feel really sad and I kind of felt the urge to write about it. Hence this post. It got me thinking about the education I received 20+ years ago in Colombia (where I’m from). At that time we had to memorize most of the information we were provided; it was the only way to succeed. It worked like that then and we didn’t know any better. We had no Internet, we went to the library, did research, took notes, and then laid in bed and memorized, and then memorized some more.
But that was 20+ years ago! Now there’s a huge monster around: the Internet. Children have endless and unlimited access to information. The world has changed; so why isn’t our education system changing with it? I am no expert, but I am an avid and curious reader. I consider myself an artist although I did not go to art school. I consider myself a teacher, even though I did not major in education. And foremost I am a strong gut-feeling advocate and my gut feeling tells me something is just not right in the way the majority of the children are being taught in schools. It makes me sad.
There’s an amazing book by Spanish teacher, Cesar Bona called “The New Education”. Cesar is one of the 50 best teachers in the world, according to the Global Teacher Prize, known as the “Nobel for teachers”. If you are curious about what a progressive approach to education looks like, I invite you to check out this book. In it, he stresses the importance of adapting to a child’s eager motor; motivating them, stimulating their creativity and their curiosity. One of my favorite quotes by Bona (as translated by me) is: “Every kid is a universe. All of them are extraordinary and filling their minds with data is not enough; we must provide them with tools such as knowledge, empathy, sensibility and resilience in order for them to excel in adverse situations. They must know that if they have set goals and work hard, they will achieve them. They must know that it’s in their power to make this a better world.”
When I was trying to decide which school to enroll my kids, this book shed some light. I saw about 8 schools, mainly traditional and both my husband and I knew these were not going to work for us. Our priorities were different. We were not interested in a structured approach to education based on textbooks, going chapter by chapter… We were more interested in an emergent curriculum where their natural curiosity was motivated. We were not expecting our boys to read and write by the age of 5. We wanted them to develop emotional, social, problem solving and creative thinking skills. We didn’t want them to speak 3 languages perfectly. We wanted them to learn to use their words identifying the power of these to praise yet also to hurt others.
We finally found a great fit. My kids attend a school where their opinions are valued; a child-led learning experience, where every kid plays an active role. They are encouraged to use critical thinking and inquiry. They question each other and even their teachers, and they learn as a group, working together as collaborators. There’s a scientist in the classroom, a mathematician, an artist, a dancer, an inventor, and so on; each child is different and must be understood and respected as an individual. A different kind of education is possible. Let us start at home. Let’s teach our children that their opinions are important; let them speak up. Don’t limit them. Even if they are told differently at the school they are attending; let them have a different experience at home. This experience will stick with them for life.