Thursday, May 22, 2008

Living and learning

"You live and learn." It's a trite statement, mentioned often in conversation (certainly here in Yorkshire), but it often strikes me as being much more than that. Because what we do here isn't really deliberate learning in artificially contrived situations - it's just living. And the educating I do is just normal, attentive parenting.

We're people who like to learn - who doesn't? - so the house has many books, computers, radios, TVs, educational toys and so forth, but even if it didn't we do live on planet Earth which itself presents a full-time learning resource. We ask questions all the time, and we look for answers. And in so doing, we live and we learn - each in the method that best suits them, at their own pace. The very best "efficient full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs they may have," to quote the 1996 Education Act (as I just did in a letter to my MP.)

It's only comparatively recently that we humans have been trying to formally separate living from learning - an experiment which has yielded some disastrous results. Somehow, when you impose on a person's natural (and invariably educational) activities the requirement to stop doing that and start learning instead, the spark of their innate curiosity is extinguished. Like many things, when you draw attention to an automatic process and give it a name, a timeslot and compulsion in all its usual stick-and-carrot forms, you can't help but to damage the process. The more you force, the more you damage.

Meng, the 4th hexagram of the I Ching, includes the words: "It is not I who seek the young fool. The young fool seeks me," and this explains the need for students to seek their own teachers when the time is right for them to do so, rather than the other way around - or, worse, for both to be compelled to seek one another according to external diktats.

In our house we all live and learn, all the time. The baby perhaps learns the fastest - and who sits down to teach babies what they need to know? Nobody. She explores, watches, mimics, experiments and draws her own conclusions by trial and error. She can't ask questions yet and the world - as much as she can access of it - is her classroom. The other five of us learn all the time too, at varying paces according to what we're doing. It's no faster or slower or more or less intense for the two of us who are of compulsory education age than it is for the rest of us.

It's a natural parental urge to want to "prepare the children for life in modern civilised society, and to enable them to achieve their full potential." (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson) and to ensure that they "equip a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so". (Mr Justice Woolf, R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust). If we need to be legally compelled to do this, this is an indication that something's gone seriously wrong in society.

When my child asks a question or brings a book to read, how could I not stop what I was doing and attend to their needs? I could no more do that than I could refuse to feed them when they're hungry or comfort them when they're distressed. These are natural instincts, as inevitable as giving birth is after the pregnancy and I struggle to understand what could thwart them enough to necessitate laws to make them compulsory.


Blogger ruth said...

"Because what we do here isn't really deliberate learning in artificially contrived situations - it's just living."

I have just learnt this the hard way lol. I wanted a break - bwwhahhhah. Doing structured stuff has only meant I have more on cos the autonomous learning is still waiting to be facilitated every day at all hours of it. Both boys have steadfastly kept autonomous despite all my efforts to impose some structure to their lives. Why I imposed the structure is a mystery I cannot remember the answer to anymore:) The boys were mystified by the idea of a break from learning and could not see why they had to wait until September to learn something they want to learn now. After very little thought I agreed it was a ridiculous idea so we are carrying on. Learning is ongoing and I cannot say lets stop for a while anymore then I can stop them doing everything else they do all day. I have tried tbh. Awful but true. I have felt so ill the idea of carving life up into little boxes and being able to sleep all weekend was kind of appealing ( ah that is why I imposed the structure)but life doesn't work like that. If I stop doing the table work with them( which is taking up very little of their day anyway,) they carry on with their own learning ( the real business of what makes them tick and what is going to shape them as people in the future)and it is great really but I am knackered at times.

Thanks Gill cos that was most helpful actually.

7:06 pm, May 22, 2008  
Blogger ruth said...

Aww sorry - blogging on comments- red face time!

7:07 pm, May 22, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh, I'm glad it was :-)

I ask Lyddie sometimes whether she'd like to have daily lessons, but she always says she's happy just to learn when she wants to. Usually when I'm in the middle of cooking food, or putting shopping away.. you know how it is!

Worth it though, IMO, not to have that wading through pea soup kind of feeling you get when you want them to be learning and they're just not in the mood, or it's not just the right thing, or whatever.

2:03 am, May 23, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said! I truly do not understand why learning has turned into something seperate from living.

7:59 pm, May 25, 2008  

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