“We teachers – perhaps all human beings – are in the grip of an astonishing delusion.”
“We think that we can take a picture, a structure, a working model of something, constructed in our minds out of long experience and familiarity, and by turning that model into a string of words, transplant it whole into the mind of someone else.”
“Perhaps once in a thousand times, when the explanation is extraordinary good, and the listener extraordinarily experienced and skillful at turning word strings into non-verbal reality, and when the explainer and listener share in common many of the experiences being talked about, the process may work, and some real meaning may be communicated.”
“Most of the time, explaining does not increase understanding, and may even lessen it.”
– John Holt, (1923-1985) American Educator, in How Children Learn
This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation. If your teen isn’t learning in the classroom, come find out more at our Open House on Monday, October 13 at 12 noon.
In the extended quote below, John Holt speaks mostly of young children. While reading it, you could replace each instance of “little child” or “small child” with “teen.” Teens carry with them their sense of the wholeness of life, even as they navigate their new ability to think abstractly, even as they explore their new and bigger bodies, even as they face their transition into adult responsibility. Here’s the quote:
My grandfather used to say of certain people, “Know nothing, fear nothing.” We tend to think of this of little children. We see their long-run fearlessness, their hopefulness, as nothing but ignorance, a disease of which experience will cure them. With what cynicism, bitterness, and even malice we say, “They’ll learn, they’ll find out what life is soon enough.” And many of us try to help that process along.
But the small child’s sense of the wholeness and openness of life is not a disease, but his most human trait. It is above all else what makes it possible for him—or anyone else—to grow and learn. Without it, our ancestors would never have come down out of the trees.
The young child knows that bigger people know more about he world than he does. How they feel about it affects, and in time may determine, how he feels about it. If it looks good to them, it will to him.
The young child counts on the bigger people to tell him what the world is like. He needs to feel that they are honest with him, and that, because they will protect him from real dangers that he does not know or cannot imagine, he can explore safely.
We can only grow from where we are, and when we know where we are, and when we feel that we are in a safe place, on solid ground.
We cannot be made to grow in someone else’s way, or even made to grow at all. We can only grow when and because we want to, for our own reasons, in whatever ways seem most interesting, exciting, and helpful to us. We have not just thoughts but feelings about ourselves, our world, and the world outside our world. These feeling strongly affect and build on each other. They determine how we grow into the world, and whether we can grow into it.”