I am drawn to the words on this meme. It represents what I passionately believe about education. But hold your horses……
As one half of a happy, hippy parent partnership, I aspire to educate my children so that they are inspired by learning. As such, my children never learned to read until they were 7-8. Instead, they made representations of alphabets with their bodies as well as using fun mediums, such as sand and chunky crayons, on beaches and pavements, never between lined, exercise book paper.
I didn’t place much importance in exams. And whenever our children’s teachers gave them homework over the summer months, my children’s father wrote to those teachers politely to inform them that his children will not be doing the homework. Summer is long blissful months of play and family time, when REAL learning happens.
This has created children who are ‘different’. My youngest daughter, at 16, is a wonderfully talented mathematician, advanced beyond her years and blessed with an insight that astounded professionals. It began when she was about 13, when our mathematician friend taught her about tetrahexaflaxagon; she grabbed the paper from his hands and made something else wonderfully complicated and ten orders of magnitude more complex that the original tetrahexaflaxagon.
To play with this, visit this site:
But going back further, she started creating complicated sudoku puzzles at the age of 9, and selling photocopied sheets of her puzzles to older children and adults. Till this day, she is forever rearranging figures and numbers in her head, solving and creating anagrams and ambigrams effortlessly.
She has this deep, intuitive understanding of geometry and seeks symmetry in the world around her. In her mind, she could do complex calculations by arranging numbers in a certain way. She could work out the unknown value of a given chemical reaction without having to write a single thing down on paper:
So it seems that I have fulfilled my education objectives, as per the meme in beginning of this post. But before you congratulate me, let me tell you the realities: my child struggles with accepting scientific laws that she intuitively knows is ‘not true’.
I wrote this book for her: An Evening In Wonderland
This book has been sense-checked by two Professors: one Professor of theoretical physics who is recognised as an expert in his field, and a Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford who had authored many authoritative academic papers. Yet my daughter is uncomfortable with the notion of gravity, believing instead that what we perceive as gravity is no more than a consequence of geometry. As for the inviolate second law of thermodynamics – well, “It doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t add up”.
However, real life means, to some degree, conforming to pass exams. But more than anything, for me the importance of following the much-maligned (“Old school”) route is the discipline to learn the basics well. This could take YEARS. Call it clipping wings or dumbing down, but this fact remains: we all have to learn to lay bricks before we can build palaces. Your child might be brilliant at breathtaking concepts such as relativity, but without the years of learning boring differential equations and school-room geometry means that his/her concepts are built on air.
My children’s father has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and has taught for 30 years. Jointly, we have put a lot of thoughts into how we are going to educate our children. Much as we are seduced to allowing them the freedom to learn grand, inspiring things, there is no escape learning the basics well. And the thing is, there is no short-cut.
So rather than changing the syllabus (which has a lot of merit, but he way), we are strong believers in redesigning the way children are taught. My daughter moans, because I am making her derive Nernst Equation. She might never use it in her chosen career, but there is a lot to be learned from the process, namely in thinking, applying, following ‘wrong’ routes, synthesising, being patient, understanding the workings of others’ brains, introspection. And for me, this is REAL education, not just the results.
She is emerging from the education system we use called Trivium which we adopt at home. It is challenging (and I have fought so much with her over learning) because trivium requires the application of grammar, logic, and rhetoric into the whole learning process.
So no, new is not always better. It’s more about finding the ways to make the old work. And this is why I would never subcontract the education of my children to others – it’s far too important, as their thinking are shaped by HOW they are taught rather than WHAT.