I just watched a TED Talk called “The nerd’s guide to learning everything online” by John Green.
He talked about how much he disliked learning in the traditional sense (school), and how pointless he felt it was, until he changed schools and got inspired to learn. This happened, he says, because he, for the first time, felt inspired to do so by the people around him. I quote: “And all at once I became a learner. And I became a learner, because I found myself in a community of learners. I found myself surrounded by people who celebrated intellectualism and engagement, and who thought that my ironic oh-so-cool disengagement wasn’t clever, or funny, but, like, it was a simple and unspectacular response to very complicated and compelling problems. And so I started to learn, because learning was cool.”
Being an educator, people’s experiences and interactions with education fascinate me. I love school. I have always loved school, always loved learning, reading, participating in class. I loved it so much that I knew, when I was two years old, that I was going to become a teacher, just so that I could always be at school. What I didn’t know back then, is that not everyone loved school, and it wasn’t for a lack of effort or enthusiasm, it was just not the right way of learning for them.
This is why hearing people, like John Green, talk about what finally attracted them to be a lifelong learner, is very interesting to me: It gives me a window into that person’s way of learning. My job is then to climb through that window and look at my schools from the inside, from their viewpoint, to see if we are reaching people like him.
You see, schools don’t have to teach the way they teach, they just do. It takes time to revolutionize an entire educational system. I have the advantage of owning my own school, which keeps us nimble. We discover a new way for people to learn, like John on Youtube, and we evaluate our program immediately, not decades later, to see if we are reaching all our students.
Like John, there are many children (and adults) who would feel re-inspired to learn, if only they felt that spark that John felt. My job as an educator, is to make those sparks happen. How?
In the classroom, by making all classroom learning experiences interactive. The student’s job is not to listen, it is to get involved, ask questions, find answers, be interested. If you want data, there’s google for that now.
Outside of the classroom as well, by teaching children to learn from every form that it presented to them. They can learn from asking questions, but also from teaching someone. They can learn from just walking outside, because the have been taught to look around, ask questions, discover. They can learn from Youtube, like John, because like him, they discovered something appealing, and found their tribe of learners.
Children are avid learners, but schools show them a very narrow vision of what learning is. They learn that classrooms are for learning, they learn that there’s nothing one can learn from looking at a tree, running down a hill, watching television, so when they do those things, they don’t get the benefit of learning from it.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that children should spend all their time running down hills or watching tv. What it means is that at school, they have been taught how to find learning everywhere, how to be lifelong learners. They have been encouraged to be curious, to try new ways of doing things.
That’s also why I work with children younger than five. That time is the most significant in the development of their brains, but also, setting up good habits (like the habit of looking for ways to learn and get engaged) at such a young age ensures that, regardless of the teachers they have in the future, they will always be lifelong learners.
I personally don’t spend any time on Youtube, so I don’t often find learning opportunities there, which is exactly why it was important for me to listen to John’s talk. I would not have connected those dots because they were not of interest to me. But to John, they are, and most likely, to many people too. Now that I have seen John’s TED Talk, I have a newfound understanding of Youtube, and of people like John, who want to find a learning community to interact with. I can now integrate this into my own views on education, and therefore make our schools more responsive to this specific type of learning.
Today I learned about why John thinks that “in a lot of ways, the YouTube page resembles a classroom”, and started thinking about how communities learn, beyond the classroom walls. I also learned something that i had not thought of before but that was so obvious now that I think of it, which is that every person can learn to want to learn (no pun intended here), given the right community. So how do we build these rich communities? How do we make this free learning accessible to everyone? How do we encourage our children to ask questions and marvel at the world, if they don’t already? How can our children, like John, re-connect with their love of learning? It’s there, we all have it.
The more I ask myself these questions, the more the world around me expands, and the more possibilities I see. And the more possibilities I see, the more I can share with my teachers, and the more they can offer their students.
Here’s John’s talk, if you’re interested: