In one of the blogs I routinely follow, I came across The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith. Wow! His premise is that there are two views of learning: classic and official. The classic view of learning states:
We learn from people around us with whom we identify. We can’t help learning from them and we learn without knowing that we are learning…Just about all the important knowledge we have about our personal worlds, and the skills we have developed to navigate through these worlds, are a direct result of learning the classic way.
He acknowledges that learning is a social process that occurs naturally through collaborative activities, much as it is in a Montessori classroom. Learning is allowed to happen and it happens for each of us on a bit of a different timeline and path. We work together and learn from each other. It is how we acquire language, understand systems and, if we are lucky, how we learn in school.
Whereas the official view of learning purports:
It is a theory that learning is work, and that anything that can be learned provided sufficient effort is expended and sufficient control enforced. The theory has gained supreme power in educational systems from kindergarten to university. It has become so pervasive that many people can’t imagine an alternative to it.
The challenge with the official view of learning is that it encourages forgetting. It does not depend on the situation or the process. It simply states that if you work harder you can learn anything. It all depends on effort; if you don’t learn, it’s because you didn’t put forth the effort.
Just reading these two definitions alone is thought-provoking. How do you learn? When did you learn something others thought was incredibly challenging, but you managed to not only learn it but enjoy it? When did you “have to” learn something easy that just kept eluding you no matter how hard you tried? These are universal experiences. If we’re learning to learn and remember and use the information we’ve been taught, we must do it in the classic way. We need multiple ways for learning to occur. When I’m trying to recall something I’ve learned, I can visualize the information and perhaps recall the words or experience attached to the learning. I do not, however, memorize, which is an official link to learning. The things I’ve memorized for tests or other situations are soon forgotten unless they are used each and every day and in a variety of situations. The official way of learning doesn’t promote learning. It promotes immediate recall, if you are lucky.
Frank Smith’s book is yet another reason to pause and reflect on the learning that happens in a true Montessori classroom. Children are learning from everyone and everything in their environment. Dr. Montessori knew how to engage children in learning and to entice them to ask questions and want more. She knew that learning is a social process and that children must interact with the materials, the adults and each other. She understood the possibilities that existed in presenting the world to a child and then set out to do it. Dr. Montessori prompts us all to learn and to remember.