If we decide to take classical education as our model of teaching does that mean that some modern teaching ideas and methods are anathema to us? Yes. I thought it would be interesting to explore some of these negative methods in the next few weeks.
The biggest idea and most compelling is that “learning can be fun.” No doubt learning can be fun which is why this idea is a stumbling block. It is especially easy for teachers of large groups to feel the need to throw out a wide net and FUN is the widest net of all. The problem with fun is that it is a hard task master. A steady diet of fun and before we know it our students are slouching in their seats glaze-eyed and bored and we are madly searching Google for ways to make it even more fun. Fun is a bad bargain.
I believe the seeds of fun were planted by Rousseau (Angelina has written extensively on this blog about Rousseau) and later Froebel and his Kindergarten.
Charlotte Mason writes in one of my favorite passages from her book Home Education:
“Indeed, I am inclined to question whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergartnerin is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children. I know a person of three who happened to be found by a caller alone in the drawing room. It was spring, and the caller thought to make himself entertaining with talk about the pretty ‘baa-lambs.’ But a pair of big blue eyes were fixed upon him and a solemn person made this solemn remark, “Isn’t it a dwefful howid thing to see a pig killed!” We hope she had never seen or even heard of the killing of a pig, but she made as effective a protest against twaddle as would any woman of Society.”
In fact, when we decide that learning must be fun we are making education equivalent with entertainment. When we fail to entertain our students in the manner to which they have become accustomed they move on to video games and other more entertaining pursuits, leaving us in the dust. Our fun has not only bored and insulted them it has taught them bad philosophy.
Yesterday my son only did 5 math problems. It took him well over an hour to do just one of them and about 5 minutes to do the rest. I had been holding his hand while he learned a new process but after I felt he understood it I sent him off to haggle with the problems on his own. His haggling lasted an hour. He was not happy and he was not having fun. It was late in the afternoon before his school for the day was done even though he usually finishes much earlier. But when he came out of the other end of his difficult session he had not only solidified his understanding of a mathematical concept, he had gained deep personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. He was happy. The process had not been fun but the reward for his endeavor will be enduring.
Charlotte Mason goes on to say in another great line, “It is a curious thing about human nature that we all like to be managed by persons who take the pains to play on our amiabilities. Even a dog can be made foolishly sentimental…” Here is the key. Appealing to our children’s sentiments is to treat them as animals rather than humans. Our job is not to appeal to their sentiments but rather to help them order them.