Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Interestingly, there is an ongoing movement among schools to reduce all kinds of experiential learning.  The movement doesn't really go by that name, it goes by - "anything could happen, we need to keep our children safe", "we can't do that in these litigious times", and "it costs too much".

Schools protect children from scary things like poison ivy and insects, and thus cancel most outdoor learning opportunities. Schools forbid teaching from having plants, animals (of all kinds) and soil in the classroom. Schools reinforce cultural fears of the natural world by forbidding any food that was not processed and wrapped in an industrial setting.   Let's send the little tykes off to school wrapped in bubble wrap and, for Pete's sake, don't let them run at recess - they could skin a knee!

Dissections are being replaced with virtual frogs... because, of course, all frogs are two-dimensional, color-coded, there is no individual variation in organs, and textures/structures are not relevant.   People are worried about frog rights (there are some relevant points here, but the experience cannot be satisfactorily simulated).  People think that kids with dissecting scissors are dangerous (how old does a kid need to be to handle a knife?  When did you get one?).

My son learned about how seeds grow into plants by... coloring then cutting out pictures of seeds, sprouts, plants, flowers, fruits, and harvest - then pasting them in order.  That, because, I guess planting a seed and watching is too hard?

There are lots of experiences that schools are skipping that go beyond using exploration.  And, these reductions take many guises.  But, ultimately, like you did - kids learn by getting dirty, getting into something, and sometimes breaking stuff, needing a band-aid, or getting poison ivy.  Our kids may be safer... but, they are bored and getting dumber.  Fun is not the opposite of learning.  Self-directed exploration is more useful than a month of worksheets.
In a few years, perhaps we can expect medical schools to abandon using cadavers in lieu of virtual people.   Forestry agents can look at leaves online.   Teachers can practice in virtual classrooms.  Nurses can practice on robotic patients.  Funny?  Guess which ones of these are already happening.