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Learning Happens...And It Is Fun – April 27, 2011
Awhile back, in response to something I don’t remember, I tweeted a quote from my book Challenging Assumptions in Education: “We do not learn because the process is fun, but because what we learn allows us to accomplish something.”

I was surprised to receive a relatively large amount of feedback. Most people wrote to tell me how much they enjoy the process of learning, which is great because learning is fun – or can be if school hasn’t given us a phobia. But, perhaps due to the necessary succinctness and lack of context of the medium, many people misunderstood. For instance, someone instructed, “Learning is fun; being taught is not” and admonished me not to confuse the two. Rest assured that after 35 years of writing about this topic, I have not suddenly confused the two! Although I agree that learning can be fun, that was not my point.

My concern is, rather, about motivation and ownership of the process, which is where the school industry has it so very, very wrong…completely backwards, in fact. Elementary and secondary schools attempt to teach things out of a misguided and, I believe, adultist certainty that their students need to know those things, or will at some point. Because the kids’ need to learn doesn’t coincide with the adults’ desire to teach, the kids don’t learn the topic of the moment. They might memorize and remember it for a while, but that’s not real learning. Since school isn’t likely going to change any time soon, teachers – at least those who still care about their work – end up trying to make learning fun for their students.

Those of us who live as if school doesn’t exist go about things quite differently. We know that learning flows unconsciously, effortlessly, from a need to do something: reading in order to understand a game, walking in order to get more efficiently from point A to point B, counting in order to save money to buy something, doing fractions in order to cook, typing in order to share thoughts online, and so on through increasingly complicated needs and solutions.

We know that children are born learners, coming out of the womb with the need and a sophisticated ability to interact with and explore their surroundings. And when children are given the opportunity to participate in the daily lives of their families and communities, they will continue to live and learn hungrily, naturally and joyfully – because they need to learn as surely as they need to eat and sleep. But I don’t think they get up in the morning and say, “Oh, I’m going to learn something today because it will be fun,” any more than they get up consciously intended to eat, sleep, walk, or talk. They live their lives. They have fun. And they learn, virtually every minute of the day. In fact, play is how children (and adults too) learn. (I have a whole website about that.) But one isn’t the motivation for the other; nor should adults try to make that so.

Learning happens. Life equals learning. Those with agendas that differ from our own have a vested interest in making a fetish of learning. Let’s not perpetuate that in the homeschooling community.

John Holt described his ideal world in this way: "People would be busy doing interesting things that mattered. Doing them, they would grow more informed, competent, and wise. They would learn about the world from living in it, working in it, and changing it, and from knowing a wide variety of people who were doing the same." And that would be an enjoyable life, no doubt. At least it is for me!
2011/04/08 5:17 PM


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