“Learning” and “school” aren’t synonyms. Of course, we certainly hope that every child’s schooling – wherever it’s delivered – involves real learning…not merely performance or “coverage” of topics. But there’s actually a big difference in the connotations behind those two words.
“Schooling” is compulsory – a mandated activity in this country. Each state has a compulsory school attendance law, requiring that all children of a certain age (usually beginning at five or six and going through 16, 17, or 18) be schooled in one way or another (i.e., in a public, private or home school). Thus, governmental agents can and do insist that children “attend school” – i.e., that their bodies are physically present in a legally-defined “school” setting for a certain amount of time each day and year. And they can and do require that instruction in particular topics be delivered to those children. They cannot, however, mandate learning.
This is because “learning” involves the heart and will of the student. A child or teen can obediently sit at her desk all day long, not causing a single disruption, and still not learn a thing. In fact, the same is true of adults. How many times, for example, have you sat through a sermon at church, yet come out of it saying, “Well, that was a bust; I didn’t learn a thing,” or blatantly committing the sin discussed in the sermon not 20 minutes later?
So, how do we help children to actually value learning?
We can start by acknowledging to them that learning and schooling aren’t necessarily the same thing. Be honest. Kids must legally attend school, and we can hope that some real learning occurs there each day. But – for many reasons – “school” is truly a drag for many kids, and we need to accept their feelings instead of belittling them. We can say, “Yes, you must attend school and I’ll do my best to help you with all that involves. But it’s okay that you don’t like it.” When we do that, we gain credibility in their eyes and, thus, earn the right to speak into their lives.
Then we can show them how real learning is different from schooling – that it involves exploring ideas and activities of personal relevance and making active choices to engage with that content. And we can create opportunities for each child to dig deeply into his or her areas of personal passion outside of and beyond their “schooling.”
Did you know that Edison and Einstein – to name but two examples – were abject failures at “school?” Edison was literally sent home (permanently) for being “learning disabled.” And, though Einstein earned “good grades,” he chafed at the constraints of the school environment. Yet both clearly continued to educate themselves outside of and beyond their schooling and demonstrated in unmistakable ways that they absolutely valued learning. Why? Each was enabled to find his niche and run with it. Your kids deserve nothing less.
Photo Credit: Todd
Photo Credit: Todd
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