What do children learn?

The first lesson I teach is confusion. Everything I teach is out of context. I teach the un-relating of everything. I teach dis-connections. I teach too much: the orbiting of planets, the law of large numbers, slavery, adjectives, architectural drawing, dance, gymnasium, choral singing, assemblies, surprise guests, fire drills, computer languages, parents’ nights, staff-development days, pull-out programs, guidance with strangers my students may never see again, standardized tests, age-segregation unlike anything seen in the outside world…..What do any of these things have to do with each other?                                       (John Taylor Gatto – the New York State Teacher of the Year)

It is amazing, isn’t it, what we put our children through in school, treating them like learning machines to input all kinds of data that seems only remotely relevant to their lives, and expect them to emerge whole and complete?  John Taylor Gatto is right – schools teach too much!

In one school day, primary school students here have to cram in between 6-8 periods of  Math & Science, 2-3 language subjects, moral (BM, English, Chinese/Tamil), civics, KT (Kajian Tempatan), KH (Kemahiran Hidup), and for secondary students, additional subjects in history, geography, economics, biology, chemistry and physics, not to mention literature and religious studies!

Children attend preschool as young as 2-3 years old!

They sacrifice their precious childhood to do hours of writing, reading and counting. They learn from a young age that their only aim in life is to follow instructions, finish their homework and do well in their exams. In this way, they will make their parents proud and their teachers happy.

But are children happy learning this way? Are they paying too high a price to acquire knowledge to pave their way to a successful life 20 years down the line? Are we truly nurturing talents and bringing out true potentials by making learning so regimented and meaningless? We, as parents and educators, need to get rid of the idea that we have to teach our children everything possible under the sun.

Because we CAN’T! First of all, it is impossible to teach EVERYTHING.

Secondly, it is impossible to know EVERYTHING.

Thirdly: Do we need to know EVERYTHING?

In “ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN – Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things”, Robert Fulghum wrote:


“Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there is the sandpit at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup:  The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.”

*  *  *

Compare that with what kindergarten kids learn today:

  • Never share – or else others would be cleverer than you!
  • The world is unfair – so why play fair?
  • If you don’t hit people, people will hit you!
  • Cleaning up is a maid’s job.
  • Taking other people’s things is your right.
  • Never say you’re sorry – that’s an admission of guilt!
  • Wiping your hands on your clothes will do.
  • Flush? What’s that?
  • Candies and coke are good!
  • A balanced life? We’re too busy trying to finish our homework everyday!
  • Afternoon nap? You’re kidding right?
  • We’re not allowed to go out into the world – we could get kidnapped, run down by cars or get robbed!
  • The only thing you’ll wonder about is whether you’ll get all ‘A’s for your exam.
  • Yes, the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – it will die one day.
  • But, WE will live like there is no tomorrow!

* * *
Does that send a shiver down your spine?

This entry was posted in Our home schooling experience, Resource & Materials, Starting Homeschool, Thoughts and Ideas. Bookmark the permalink.

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