Learning as an art?

I posed a question earlier asking If learning is not an art, why is teaching? A couple of comments on the post have prompted this blog post.

Over the past 100 years or so, science has established a solid foundation of understanding how people learn. The principles are found in psychology, and not education, with very few of the principles crossing over. Education is based on two long traditions – training clerics in the middle ages, and Prussian military efficiency – with the shorter tradition of the industrial model holding encompassing it. Nowhere, in that tradition, has research or evidence played a significant role. Education is built on tradition and anecdotes.

In the last 30 or 40 years, differences in learning amongst children have become a n important part of the educational landscape. There are definitely differences in how people learn, but the differences are far smaller than the similarities. In case anyone hadn’t noticed, our society, and most of our societal power structures, are built on exaggerating inconsequential differences (race, gender etc.). The same is true in education. Exaggerated differences in learning provide a great deal of power and resources to those who play the game. I have known many educational psychologists, and the game they play is to make as many students as possible label able (their term, not mine) in order for the local educational authority (school, district etc.) to be able to draw down (considerable) extra money. Playing along with their exaggerated differences in learning doesn’t help any of us. It builds additional artificial grounds for discrimination that can be used to label people and keep them in their place within the existing power structures.

Many of the differences in learning that are brought to my attention are really based on differences in interest or personality – which is not learning. Just as conformity is held up as a central tenant of learning within education – it has nothing to do with learning, it has to do with the enormous class sizes teachers are asked to deal with. So many things that are called learning have nothing to do with learning.

One of the comments suggested that learning is instinctual – which it is. We are born to learn. But, just like every other instinctual behaviours, learning follows built in principles that have proven to work for our species over a millennia of generations. They are instinctual, but we want them to be something else.

If you want to keep art in your approach to teaching – go right ahead – all you are doing is what everyone else who teaches does. there are others who want to find out what the real learning principles are so that they can tailor their teaching to how children really learn.


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