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Movin' on with Nellie: Learning is a many splendored thing

Posted: Friday, Apr 5th, 2013

Iíve been thinking. I know why prisons look the way they do with their hard lines on the structures and on the inmates; but, I donít understand why schools and colleges look and act like prisons.

Learning should be a place where students are accepted; where students of all abilities gain insight into the world and design their lives for noble deeds. But with hard lines measuring students and teachers, the fine art of teaching, guiding, and coaching students has gone amuck.

How can one teacher be the lone guide of a class full of 31 minds? Or 14? How can one teacher and perhaps a teacherís aide corral 31 techno-savvy minds into one lesson? How can one professor do so with 28 or 128 students?

At the doctorate level, learning changes to a ratio of one full professor to four or five doctorate candidates. That ratio is more conducive to direct involvement and guiding of learners. Thus, a more warm relationship with education is molded.

So why does it take until doctorate level work for school/college/university administrations to see how valuable one-to-one relationships are for the learner?

Imagine for a moment that a third-grade student is learning with three other students under the guidance of a master teacher who pulls out the childís natural curiosity. Or imagine an eighth grader learning and understanding what natural science and writing have in common. Closer ties to the educator could work wonders on studentsí morals, sensibilities, and motivations.

I CAN IMAGINE THAT SCENARIO. In fact, many parents are home schooling their children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. As a retired associate professor of a community college, I can attest to the success home schooled students have in higher education because they have an advantage of respecting and loving education. This group has never said to me that school is like a prison. Instead they almost always note their joy in learning. Given a task of researching, students thrive on the challenge and learn more as they hunt for answers than from any lecture.

At another level, I also wonder what a difference it would mean to our society if scholars (young and old) could see the architecture of educational institutions more like homes and less like prisons. Instead of classes with 32 students or more, they would be in learning labs that migrate from indoors lab to outdoors lab to off-campus sites in the communities.

Freedom needs to be part of the equation in learning. Just as young moms place pots and pans at the reach of toddlers and protect them from the harmful cleaning solutions by storing those out of reach, learning fields need to be available to learners to be freely explored without threat to self-respect, mindfulness, and goal reaching. Most of all, the education site needs to be free of gun violence and any threat to life.

Imagine that a new school sprang up and hired three times or four times as many educators as we have now; imagine that school building looking like a home, maybe with small houses, next to small houses, or maybe like a palace where a scholarly monarchís family lived. The rooms are filled with floor to ceiling oil paintings as one finds in the Houston Metropolitan Art Museum; these arts would be from all over the world, from all written and non-recorded time; rugs are from hand-loomed artists in India or Europe; memories in that place would include the field trips to other lands and cultures like down-under to Aussie land.

What is clear as I write this column is that education and our notion of education has to change to better the young minds and older minds that seek to make sense of their worlds. Education is a major institution where morality is raised up within children and it need not be a place with such restrictions that bullies thrive but the human spirit does not, and where educators are bound by ceilings and regulations instead of curiosity and adventure.

The mind and the places it learns should be boundless and challenging and think-tank building not places mirroring prison and loss of morale.

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