Learning is…

  1. At its Heart, Learning is a Humanist Endeavor. Primary and secondary learning is not a scientific experiment, measurable at every turn. That learning is not a business transaction, quid pro quo always expected. Through the acquisition of skills and content knowledge, the goal of primary and secondary public education is to guide young people toward their full cognitive, social/emotional, and physical capacities. These capacities contribute to their broad and thoughtful understanding of themselves, others, and the world and universe in which they live. Every subject within a school, in different ways, enriches that skill and content knowledge, by high school graduation helping to develop a young person who is either prepared to continue formal learning at higher levels or employable, ready, as needed, with those skills and content knowledge;    
  2. The Heart of the Learner precedes the Brain. As the teacher and school work to establish the desired classroom and school culture, the social-emotional development of the learner must be understood to provide the powerful, necessary pre-condition for the cognitive development — not vice-versa;
  3. Learners require Safety and Trust. Classrooms, especially for middle school and high school learners, can be emotionally precarious places. Learning requires that learners risk themselves often, their answers, positions, insights, feelings, beliefs, dreams… As such, the learner’s willingness to risk requires a classroom environment of emotional safety and trust. The teacher’s, and school’s, first job is to create and protect that culture;
  4. Learning is Difficult. Real learning (stretching beyond the known into the unknown, toward mastery) is difficult. These aspects ring true for most realms of learning: cognitive, emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, artistic, athletic, relational…;
  5. Learning within Formal Education is Three Things: Curriculum. Instruction. Assessment. Always, these three components exist within ever-shifting political, social, and economic contexts. And — whew — those contexts have multiple layers which are often in conflict with one another: the classroom, the academic subject, the school, the community, the city/town, the state, American society… Every school day, each learner and teacher implicitly or explicitly negotiates (or not) those three educational ingredients, their contexts and contextual layers;
  6. The Learner requires that Important Discrete Skills have a Larger Relevance. Learners forever ask, “Why should I know this?” This is not a great question – this is the great question! Understanding the variety of adverbials or the relevance of converting fractions to percentages or the influence of the Harlem Renaissance or the theories of Darwin, as examples, need context to the learner, continually provided by teacher, school, family, and society;
  7. Learning in Public Education Needs a Commonly Taught Critical Thinking Paradigm. “Critical thinking” is our society’s most commonly agreed upon, although vague, notion of a higher-order skill (in the “Curriculum is…” post, referred to as the metaphorical “forest-level” skill) that the high school graduate should possess. So what is the definition of critical thinking? Many public education and for-profit curricula define that term, with some degree of conceptual overlap but little consistency of terminology and paradigm. Educators are left to infer what critical thinking really should mean while implying to society that the learners understand it. Presently, for example, most secondary school teachers, borrowing from state-level 12th grade exit exams, Advanced Placement or college entrance exams, textbooks, and/or vague notions of what “colleges want,” construct our society’s critical thinking paradigm. This is not sufficient. The meaning and paradigm of “critical thinking” must be explicit and common. In the high-stakes world of education, indeed of our society’s future, what common forest-level critical thinking capacities do we agree our high school graduates must have? What do the terminology and paradigm for that capacity look like? Such commonality would begin a sensible basis for school accountability and for the essential K-12 alignment of discrete critical thinking skills;
  8. The Creative Part of Cognitive Development is as Important as the Analytic Part. The vast majority of American public education curriculum bends itself toward logical reasoning and problem-solving, increasingly so as the learner moves toward twelfth grade. In and of themselves, logical reasoning and problem-solving are important, necessary skills. But, it’s a matter of greater curricular balance: our learners’ brains learn too little how to create artistically and express themselves aesthetically. Our learners are required so little time to express themselves through the visual, cinematic, performing, dance, music, and literary arts. Paradoxically, stretching the creative part of the brain amplifies and intensifies the ability of the analytic part;
  9. Learning and Teaching are Extraordinarily Complex. The multitude of competing, always evolving, educational values, theories, and practices, none a clear-cut winner over two thousand years of formal, Western education, reveals that a single path to learning is an illusion;
  10. Expecting Less of a Learner due to Race or Gender or Socioeconomic Status is the Most Debilitating -ism;
  11. Learning is Not a Business. Education has important components like its buildings and grounds, buses, materials and equipment, contracts, utilities, food services, salaries, insurance, etc., the management of which requires business expertise. But the essence of education — the learning process — is not a business. For lots of reasons this blog intends to explore, over the last twenty years our society has come to believe that the essence of the learning process can be understood in the same way that the quality and quantity of widgets produced at a factory can be understood; and
  12. Human Beings as Widgets: For Our Society, Such an Implication is a Slippery Slope toward [fill in the blank — lots of people have].