What Should We Be Learning? (Or: In Defense of the “Learning Gap”)

July 9, 2008 at 3:29 pm 2 comments

Warning: This post is pretty much a rant. Meaning I start one place and end up another – but I’m okay with that. Maybe it’s my “learning gap.”

So, this particular post is mostly inspired by the critique that when people free school, they acquire a “gap in their education” or a “learning gap.” When we break this down, all this essentially means is that the individuals don’t have all of the specific knowledge that school systems have deemed that they should have.

Well, yeah, obviously. Isn’t that kind of the point?

But, I do have four responses to this critique: 1) we should be reevaluating what is important for us to learn (and who decides this), 2) people should be learning other things then are currently promoted by schools, 3) the process of discovering what you should learn, why you should learn it, and how you should learn it are equally as important as learning it, and 4) a great number of students in regular schools suffer from this very same “learning gap” that is being applied to free schoolers (or whatever name they go by). I also have a bonus question: what are schools subtlety teaching?

So, when someone uses the term “learning gap” – they most likely mean that the free schooler could not pass every test on biology, chemistry, physics, English, U.S. American History, World History, geometry, trigonometry, and so on. These comprise the four most valued subjects by school: science, social studies/history, English/language arts, and math. Of course, there are the other mandated topics of health, economics, and so forth – plus the few electives that students get to choose (usually a language or art).

Gosh, that’s a lot of tests.

So, students start out on a pre-designed path, with a few allotted variables and decisions, only to have the same goals (also given to them by the school): get good grades, pass the tests. Through this entire process, though, what are they learning that’s not listed on their curricula? And what are individuals not learning? Well, first, students are being taught that they are in a horse race against their peers. They must struggle to the top, above their other peers, and they must do better than them in order to get good grades, possibly be the valedictorian, and get into a good college. If the other students were to get as good of a grade, or be in the same class ranking, then they wouldn’t be anything special. Compete, outdo your neighbor, and rise to the top; be number one and leave all of those other suckers behind! They’re also learning to blindly follow the authoritative voice, and that every single subject is divided from one another (45 minutes in world history, 45 minutes in geometry, 45 minutes in biology, etc.). Students are not learning how to shape their own lives, the importance of their decisions and the consequences there of, why they are learning a certain topic, and how this applies to their everyday lives. In addition to this, they’re not learning how to initiate a learning experience. These are always forced onto them without adequate explanation, and thus they come to think that learning is something that someone does to them – rather than something they do for themselves or their community. On top of that, how many students get to the top? How many don’t get B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s? That are told they are just above average, that they are average, below average, or failures? What do they learn from that? They come to be taught they are losers, they’re not as good as those A kids. More so, don’t these kids have this supposed “learning gap”? Surely, they could not pass everyone of these tests with flying colors. And what of this information that they’ve “learned” will stick with them a month, two months, a year down the road? Or, more likely, does it all begin to fly out the window once that final test is taken (or ditched)?

Part of the learning process should be why what we learn is important, and that involves allowing us to make mistakes and fail at things without being punished. Without the stigma of being branded a failure and the psychological toll that takes, people will learn what they need to learn and they will want to learn these things. Humans are natural learning and curious animals. It is through the process of being taught that we are failures, that we must compete! compete! compete!, that it is shameful and punishable to be wrong, and that someone must teach us everything that they choose is important that this natural curiosity gets driven from our systems. How about, instead, we learn it is just normal to make mistakes, because that is part of the learning process. And if we act on these mistakes, and improve upon them, or just simply recognize they are there and understand they happened without the threat of punishment or shame, I promise that those students that regularly get B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s will begin to have confidence in themselves – and they will begin to learn and grow in their own ways. In addition, those students with all A’s will begin to relax and realize that learning is not simply a means to an end – but instead it is an active process in which we shape ourselves and the world around us.

We all have learning gaps, places where our thoughts, knowledge, and understanding of the world do not coincide – but that is important. That is what makes us individuals and allows us to have the potential of shaping evolving communities. We are all coming from different places, and many of us are going in separate directions, so of course we’re not going to all be uniform and have the same understanding. I just don’t see what’s wrong with that.

There’s a lot more that schools do teach and don’t teach, but I’ve got a long time to expand on it all.


Entry filed under: General Free Schooling, Related To Free Schooling. Tags: , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. deldobuss  |  July 9, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Well, and shouldn’t there be a learning “heaviness” in areas we are looking to excell in career-wise. It is not absolutely necessary for a person wishing to be an artist to take high level math.

    No matter how much you “have it together”, you are going to miss something in a child’s education. The important matter is getting the basics in, the foundation, so that later if they need this information or wish to learn it, they have the skills necessary to do so on their own. We need to create self-learners, not teacher dependant drooly heads. 😉

  • 2. goodboy  |  January 6, 2010 at 10:09 am

    how can I find out that in my math class the students have this learning gap?


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