Several years ago my friend Tom gave me a book written by Clark Aldrich entitled Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways To Unlearn What We Know About Schools And Rediscover Education.
What continues to strike me most deeply is Aldrich’s position that there are three types of learning: learning to be, learning to do, and learning to learn. I believe that the mission of education is to help our students (and ourselves) learn how to do each if these: learn how to learn, learn how to do, and learn how to be.
I realized that one of the things that I have been finding most troubling about the direction of “school reform” has been the loss of commitment to the ‘learn how to be’ and ‘learn how to do’ pieces. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was just a part of a much larger puzzle. I wanted to try to make some sense of this puzzle and find I do that best by writing and hearing from others about their reactions.
My work as an instructional and executive coach has offered me the opportunity to visit a number of schools and districts throughout the country. Reflecting on this experience as well as my time as a school and district leader, I realized that (a) I resonate strongly with Aldrich’s three types of learning concept and (b) I’ve seen very few examples where all three types of learning have been the intentional focus of the schools and/or districts.
Since I’ve frequently shared my sense of Aldrich’s wisdom, I thought it might be interesting to reflect more deeply on his learning types. So I’ve decided to complete a little exploration of Aldrich and my response to his thinking. Because it’s my blog and I get to pick, I’m going to begin with
The Need To Learn How To Be…
As an ‘older’ person, I guess it’s normal to spend time looking backwards… in all likelihood it’s because, in that direction, there’s so much more to see. I think of the decisions I faced growing up in the 1950’s and early 60’s. There were few that had the long-term implications of missteps in today’s world.
Then I look at the kids I’m seeing in schools when I visit classrooms. How are they explaining to themselves things like the Orlando attack, the Sandy Hook school shooting, Ferguson, the embarrassingly uncivil behavior of presidential candidates? What are they internalizing about what it means to be an adolescent in the world? An adult? How do they reflect on the ability to begin, nurture and sustain relationships? How do they examine their own sexual identity?
Such explorations are both incredibly important and highly engaging for kids. And while we see the engagement levels of students drop precipitously as they move through the grades, we ignore the research on the importance of engagement and learning. We have focused our efforts on getting better at schooling, at mastering the strategies of efficiency, and have accepted test scores as a demonstration of our instructional prowess.
And how are we doing this? We are spending ever increasing amounts of time and resources to improve the performance on topics and content that represent little more than guesswork about what kids will need to know to be successful. We work harder and harder to improve the preparation we experienced while, at the same time, the world is getting further and further away from that time.
When our times cry out for helping our kids learn “how to be” in this “new” world, we focus our instruction and our measurement on what they should learn and how they should learn as determined by the Committee of Ten in the 1890’s! When our kids are beginning to form who they are going to be and how they wish to interact with the world and the others around them, we’ve diminished the time available for ‘socialization’ and have made kindergarten the “new first grade”. We have accepted such terms as kindergarten readiness and entrance requirement for pre-schools as the ‘new normal’.
And we watch. Good teachers and good school leaders find themselves working harder than ever before… and feeling less and less fulfilled by their work. It is time. It is time to take Clark Aldrich to heart and begin a serious exploration of how we can plan, design and offer engaging learning experiences that intentionally focus on the ways in which our kids can explore who and how they wish to be in the world and in their interactions with it.
I know firsthand that many of you on this mailing list have exciting examples of how you are helping kids learn how to be in the world. Take a few minutes and share your stories. The stories are the power.