Alfie Kohn

Some like him, some hate him. I tend to agree with what he says generally, though I can see where he comes off a bit brusque. Mostly, I like how after I read his work (or the work of John Holt or John Taylor Gatto) I feel so much better about our homeschooling. I just finished Feel Bad Education which is a compilation of essays he wrote in various forms over the last 10 or so years. Here are a start at my notes:
  • Most of the stuff we force kids to memorize, they don't remember. That was (and is) so true for me. I was really, really good at memorizing stuff for a test but never learning it. It didn't interest me and besides the learning wasn't the goal, the grade was the goal. We shouldn't view education as filling up children with bits of knowledge. That is not learning, it's trivia.
  • Knowing a lot of facts doesn't make you smart. Haven't I said that Jeopardy winners are good at trivia, not necessarily smart? Yes, I have. And they aren't good at science trivia. All the science questions I've seen come up on the show (granted, my watching of it is limited) are extremely simple.
  • Just because something is harder (a test, a book, a curriculum) doesn't mean it's better. We need to 1) find out what interests the kids and 2) find out how to learn about it in a way that will keep them interested. It doesn't need to be easy or hard, it just needs to be learning!
  • Kids aren't future adults. School should not be merely learning for the next step. They don't need to learn this now because later they'll be in High School or College or in the working world. Let them figure out their own goals in life.
  • Corporations drive a lot of curriculum. This is just coming to light in the mainstream with Scholastic being in the news for its books funded by the coal industry. But it's been going on forever and it's ridiculous.
  • Designing a progressive school, which would be based on children's interests (the children actually sitting in the desks, not children at-large,) which would include hands-on learning, mentor-apprentice structure and have multi-age classrooms, and which would not include homework or standardized testing is never, ever going to happen. Well, it kind of does, we call it homeschool. But actually happening in a building where parents send their children to learn from someone else, that won't happen. It would be too expensive, too revolutionary, too outside the norm. It might be amazing and wonderful, but it won't happen.
  • Teaching by doing, where the kids work with you and get to see you struggle and make mistakes, is real learning. You get to problem solve. You get to see the whole process. You get to see how this fits into the real world. You get a self-esteem boost from having done this work. You may even come to a conclusion. This type of teaching challenges the structure of authority. Kids are able to question the authority figure and to see that that person doesn't always have the answers, let alone the right answers. I believe this to be a GOOD thing. Questioning what is said, what is written, is what I want for my children, not blind acceptance of the status quo.
More to come!

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