Does Learning Stop at the Classroom Door?

I’ve been working with children for over 40 years. My students have taught me a lot over the years. One of the first things I learned was that one of the roots for the word education is educere, meaning, to lead out. I have recently discovered that the word education has more than one root word. Another root word for education is educare, meaning, to train or mold.

These two competing ideas represent the polar opposites of education. There’s been a lot of talk around the question of which one is more important, self-expression or the ability to follow instructions. In the end, both approaches have their good and bad points and for the most part, both are called upon every day, by educators from Seattle to Savannah. However, when it comes to realtime practices in the classroom, the ability to follow instructions wins. The question is why? No need to think hard for the answer to this one. The answer is right in front of us. It’s easier to focus on following directions than it is to have an open classroom, with the student at the center of the learning process.

Educational systems have been in play for thousands of years, if not longer, but all educational systems were not created equal. some of the oldest educational systems were founded in Rome and were designed with specific segments of the population in mind, like the military and the priesthood. The modern systems of public education are a far cry from their ancient ancestors, in more ways than one.

Whether these systems ever existed or not, the history of education begins with the birth of the first child to the first set of parents. Those original parents had no choice in the matter. They had to teach their offspring the skills they would need to survive. They had to learn what foods to eat and how to prepare them. Defense of the home and the ability to catch and kill prey were essential. Did these early human beings have to learn how to read? Of course they did. They had to know how to learn how to read animal tracks, when they were hunting; how to navigate using the sun, moon and stars; and about all the signs and symbols of the forest, the desert and the savannah lands.

Over time, the human race has experienced the stone age, the bronze age and the iron age, according to European historians. As usual, Africa is a “special” case, unlike Europe and Asia. As it turns out, for some unknown reason, Africa always ends up being a special case, no matter what the topic of discussion may be. This is what led pioneering individuals like J.A. Rogers, Carter G. Woodson and Dr. Edward W. Crosby to create a new field of study dubbed Pan-African Studies, for the express purpose of looking at African history from an African perspective.

This curricular model seeks to “lead out” as opposed to teaching by rote. Discussions are encouraged. Thinking outside of the box and doing whatever’s necessary for the success of the student are of primary importance. Using this kind of student-centered curriculum puts the student at the center of the learning. With the student at the center of the learning process their needs and interests are taken into account first and foremost. Adjustments to the process and the content are made to suit the needs of the learner.

Admittedly, this approach makes things much more difficult for the teacher, as they may end up struggling to keep up with the student. The benefits that accrue far outweigh the shortcomings of the process as the student begins to buy-in to the process and take responsibility for their learning. Instead of waiting for the teacher to fill their head with more knowledge the students will actually begin to seek out knowledge of their own accord and share it with the rest of the class.

Learning naturally occurs outside the classroom. As teachers we have to be willing to allow learning to continue happening inside and outside the classroom. The day the student thinks the only time they need to think is when they’re inside the four walls of a classroom, is the day the process has failed the student. The day the student thinks the only reason to learn the material is for the purpose of passing a test, the process has failed the student. The day the student thinks the primary purpose of becoming educated is to get a job, the process has failed the student.

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