Underlying Assumption about School #4

Kids won’t learn if you don’t make ’em.

This is really a corollary of assumption #3 (learning is a product of teaching), but I think it deserves its own entry. More than the other assumptions, this one has the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve met plenty of kids who won’t “learn” (read: won’t put any more effort into learning “school” things than they absolutely have to), but will spend hours learning about things that interest them.

After I left Montessori, I went to a funky, democratic-ish, alternative middle/high school. There were no required classes, no grades, and no tests. I spent a lot of time fielding questions from people about how I ever learned anything if no one made me. Here’s a transcript of a conversation I must have had about five thousand times while I was in high school. The words are made up but the meaning is real:

Other person: You don’t have any tests?

Me: No.

Other person: None?!?!

Me: None.

Other person: And you don’t have any grades either?

Me: Nope.

Other person: How do you ever learn anything? I’d never learn anything if I didn’t have to study for tests.

Me: Well, since I’m not worried about tests and grades, I usually enjoy what I’m learning, so it’s not a big deal.

Other person: Okay, fine, but how do you ever know you’re learning enough if you don’t get grades.

Me: (In my head: Huh? What do grades have to do with learning.) I have long conversations with my teachers which help me know if I’m learning enough, but mostly I have to figure out for myself if I’ve learned enough to satisfy me.

These conversations usually ended with me and my interlocutor wandering off scratching our respective heads in wonder and consternation.  I could never believe that people really thought learning only happened under duress, and the other person couldn’t fathom that I would ever learn everything I “needed” to know unless someone was forcing me to.

(Wow, that all sounded remarkably self-satisfied. I hope I wasn’t that obnoxious when I was a teenager! I’m sure I was.)

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4 thoughts on “Underlying Assumption about School #4

  1. Michelle Freedman says:

    And here is a conversation I have frequently about my choice of Montessori education for my daughter:
    Other person: “Montessori lets your kid just kind of do whatever they want in school right?”
    Me: “Actually, it is very structured. The children are given lessons, chose their work: the focus is on independent learning –”
    Other person: “So, they get to do what ever they want, like Waldorf.”
    Me: “Montesorri is not at all like Waldorf. They are quite different ideas of education. For example, in Montessori a child learns skills based in practical life -”
    Other person: “Practical? It sounds like a bunch of kids just doing whatever they want to do all day.”
    Me: (Exasperated sigh) Yes, that is exactly what it is like.

    • superplexa says:

      All of which is rather ironic, since in many ways Waldorf kids have a lot less opportunity to “do whatever they want” than Montessori kids do.

  2. I went to a Montessori school from preschool to second grade, entering public school in third grade. I was astonished by the general stupidity of my classmates with their “age-appropriate” skills and knowledge bases. Many of them, for example, could not write properly or read aloud in a pleasing manner.

    It has occurred to me in the past few years, though, that what my Montessori basis mostly prepared me for was the age of Google and Wikipedia. I have been accustomed for the last 31 years to find things out if I was interested in them, and keep reading about them until I was satisfied or I ran out of information.

    • superplexa says:

      Or reappeared hours later with an encyclopedic knowledge of Basque mythology? Ok, so that wasn’t you, but…

      Actually, I think I agree with you. Two of the most important skills I got from Montessori are the ability to judge my own level of understanding (and interest) and the ability to evaluate information on my own, though that latter skill was definitely honed by college and grad school. While I still occasionally find myself sucked into the liberal echo chamber, or the academic echo chamber, or repeating someone else’s argument because I’m too lazy to check it out for myself, on the whole, I trust my ability to evaluate the information I come across and decide which is well supported and trustworthy, and which is a bunch of hooey. Given that anyone can say anything on the internet and make it look “real,” I think that’s a pretty important skill, and it scares me to see how few people really have it.

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