Learning: A Messy Affair

Excuse the lack of posts these days- a perfect storm of lack of time, inclination and focus has caused me to be unusually silent. But there comes a time when even I begin to weird myself out and need to start spouting opinions whether they are fully formed or not.

And this, dear readers, is most definitely not one of my more complete thoughts. But the word learning is the only rubric with which to collect all the random, clunky ideas and ponderings hovering in my brain the way freeze dried juice packs swim around in anti-gravity. See? I told you. Even my similes make no sense.

But I’ll try to be coherent anyway. Just for the fun of it. So let us look at these different scenarios shall we?

1. I am sitting at home and suddenly something happens that shouts in Neon Pink, “A Teachable Moment! A teachable moment!”. This something could be during an episode of Buffy (these occur more frequently than you would think) or it could be during a conversation with my daughters about friends. For example, my daughter is still having problems with a girl in her class. Although it is not as bad with her as it is with some, she still needs to deal with the fact that this girl subtly bullies people to get her own way; that for one of those deeply arcane psychological reasons, the girl holds some sort of power over them and decides who is popular or not; that even if you are not being attacked but only witnessing the attack, you are still in some way culpable.

Seems simple right? Yeah. Right. Do you remember being a kid? How confusing and wearisome all this crap was? That instead of leading to some epiphany about yourself and human nature, all these conflicting thoughts and emotions just kind of made you feel sick to your stomach?

And yet, here is the great divide of which I have been pondering lately. All this stuff is pretty clear for my 35-year old brain: ignore the girl; you are better than her; don’t play her games or she’ll win; defend yourself (with words of course, not the ninja moves you learned from Buffy); defend others.

Be a beacon for those less fortunate than you! Become a towering force of righteousness!

Okay. I didn’t say those last two. But my proselytizing is about just as effective. Because these platitudes only makes sense after you have spent years and years mulling it over, getting to know yourself and pondering how you want to be in the world.

At 11, this problem is a new one. She is staring at it as scared as a deer in the headlights, and all I can offer her is a quick hug, pat on the back and push toward the door.

Feeling inadequate much?

2. There was a discussion recently among the parents of my daughter’s class about whether or not to take them on a class visit to see Bodies (you, know, where real live people are laminated from the inside out?). To my surprise, many parents were against their children seeing it (I am always surprised when people have different opinions than me- it is so terribly odd of them). Now, some were concerned about the ethics of the exposition. This I could understand. I have heard reports about the bodies they use not always being voluntary (but I haven’t actually investigated this, so I have no opinion as of yet).

But I digress. I think some parents were also concerned about their children seeing the actual bodies. Now all parents know their children. If you child is easily scared or unusually squeamish, okay, maybe it is better for them not to go. But mostly, and I know this from experience because I have taken my daughters two separate times to see it, they will just think it is unbelievably cool in that 10-year-old gross out kind of way. But in between the Ewwws and the Oh my god there’s a baby in there! they are waiting for an explanation. What does that red line do, Mommy? Where does blood come from? (I can’t answer that one- I am going to have to look it up.) In fact, I think it is a very good way to show kids how our bodies work.

One comment from a parent struck me though…She differentiated between the structured family visit where you have the chance to put the information in context and the school visit where this might not be possible. She suggested that where their might be some validity to the former, there is not much point to the latter.

This got me to thinking about how we try to package our information to our children and how we try to control what seeps in through their porous brains. And I came to the conclusion that we can’t. We can’t know how they are going to take whatever we throw at them, if they decide to take it at all…All we can do is continue lobbing messy, unravelling knowledge balls at them and hope that one of the threads hits them and then clings like static.

3. This is a professional example, so excuse me as I wander into the world of librarianship. I work in a school and have the opportunity to impart some information literacy wisdom to the students. I wouldn’t call it teaching, ’cause, honestly, I think I would be insulting teachers if I do. At first, I started out by telling them the basic research path: dictionary -> encyclopedia ->book ->articles.

Now I love this formula. It is simple, elegant, and unfortunately not realistic. Because anything to do with learning is never that clean. Usually, with the topics they have or with the kind of information they need, or are starting out with, this path won’t do. Because it is non-linear. The path is a guide, one to keep you on track and should be seen as such, but the reality is that you will probably spend some fruitless time looking stuff up on the internet or even if you do follow the path given either you’ll not find a full enough entry in the encyclopedia, or you look in the wrong encyclopedia, or you can’t find a book in the library on your subject or…

So many variables. The vision of 20 kids sitting in a classroom absorbing the information is, of course, a madperson’s vision. Because even if math is assigned for Monday morning and all the students show up, some will not be inclined to learn math at that time. Some will be too tired. Some will be too stressed about their biology exam next period or thinking about the book they are reading or…

I guess my point is, that instead of stressing about whether the message is understood and process the moment we deliver it, it should be enough for us (at least as parents) to just let them know the message is there, and that whenever they are ready, they can come back to it with us. Or not. Or maybe it can just float around their little heads until it is anchored with a concrete experience.

In conclusion, I have no conclusion. I told you these were unformed thoughts. So sue me.

Okay, that’s not true. My conclusion is that we still have to tell our daughters these platitudes. We still have to go to the exhibition with the bodies and tell the girls about the research path. They might not get it right away, but it will be somewhere in them fermenting. And hopefully, one day, it will produce a rich, full bodied stein of thought.

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2 Responses to Learning: A Messy Affair

  1. kyra says:

    salut Lina, my position had little to do with “structure” or “control”, but rather with bringing up the question about scholar void. i will say this en français – il y a une dimension affective à tout chose, d'autant plus importante durant les années d'”apprentissage” (however the process occurs). Mon (bien triste) constat est que l'institution scolaire n'est pas en mesure (pour toutes sortes de raisons humaines, civiles et logistiques) de tenir compte de cette dimension primordiale.
    So – far of me the idea of controling (structuring?) the children – but rather i was suggesting that we most often lack insight in the way we go about doing things within a “pedagogical frame set”. i do recognize that pedagogical transmission occurs not when we (adults) expect it to… – but that is a totally different point. i still do beleive that parental guidance (may it be sheer attentive presence & gooodwill – which is at 80% of the time lacking withhin the scholar environment) does have an effect on the way our chidren configurate the world, in and out. Kyra
    please excuse my english – it's terrible

  2. kyra says:

    et si je peux me permettre de rajouter un detail – lors de toutes mes sorties avec les enfants dans le contexte scolaire, j'ai été témoin des graves lacunes citées précédemment.
    je parle rarement au nom de mes propres enfants, pour qui j'ai finalement assez peu d'inquiétude à ce niveau. je parle plus particulièrement pour la collectivité des enfants de l'école dans le contexte de notre société.
    il serait grand temps, d'après moi, que la société parentale se réveille face à ces graves problématiques!
    (encore kyra)

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