from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Learning about Learning

April 7. My daughters, as with most in their generation and mine, have always seen themselves as part-time teachers.  Virtually from birth, their children were read to.  Educational toys were purchased.  Early encounters with the meanings of print or the shape of numbers were assisted.  Trips to appropriate museums were organised.  Care was exercised in the choice of nursery and primary school.  Parent’s evenings were dutifully attended.  Yet there remained a basic division of labour.  At around nine every term-time morning, children were sent off to learn with trained teachers.  When they came home at three, they were not in the least interested in giving a blow-by-blow account of their lessons.  That part of the day was done; now they wanted to get onto the next diversion.  At some later point they might talk of a discovery that had interested them, or a problem they had experienced with another child, but this was randomised, opaque information. 

Suddenly the children were at home, with the teacher sending instructions to the parents about what kind of lessons they should engage in.  The consequence for my daughters has been labour, pleasure, and discovery.  In both cases they have undertaken a crash course of learning about learning.  The outcome has been a seriously enhanced respect for the pedagogy of the modern primary school.  They have discovered, for instance, how the phonic method of teaching literacy, which is now the dominant methodology, actually works.  They can see the logic, the order, and the effectiveness of the process, where before they could only note that their children were suddenly making rapid progress towards fluent reading.  The professionalism, as well as the dedication and humanity, of the teachers, has been borne in on them. 

A friend and contemporary of mine, a retired electronic engineer, has taken it upon himself to spend two hours a day in online teaching of various scientific subjects with his two secondary-school-age grandchildren.  He has discovered odd gaps in their knowledge, but in the round he has been astonished by how much they already know.  A good deal more, he thinks, than he did at their age. The unconsidered view, that schools lack the discipline, or the resources, or the methods, to teach as well as once they did, is for him shown to be a myth.  Schooling is just better than in the days when he and others were setting out on their academic careers.  That said, one of my friend’s grandchildren had quietly to intervene towards the end of last Friday’s lessons.  ‘You do know, Grandpa, that next Monday we are supposed to be on Easter holiday.  Perhaps we could stop the lessons for a while.’

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