Monday, 6 June 2011

Why children might reject an adult-led educational approach; part 2

Somebody commented yesterday on the thread about the above topic, putting forward an interesting hypothesis. She suggested that some parents are natural teachers, while others are born facilitators. Children too come in different types; some are naturally autonomous learners and others are predisposed to being taught. I am not at all sure what to make of this idea.



To begin with of course, this is just a form of biological determinism. I cannot teach little Mary because her predetermined character is such that she will not respond well to being taught. Or perhaps; I can't teach GCSE physics, because I am biologically a facilitator and not a natural teacher. I am bound to say that on the face of it, this strikes me as being a pretty strange way of looking at the case. If I make a poor job of accomplishing some task, whether it is teaching physics or fixing a car, I tend to assume that the fault lies in me and not in the car or the child. If there are natural born teachers, then I suppose that there must also be natural born mechanics, natural born electricians and natural born architects as well. This is a weird concept and one with which I have difficulties. Do these biological predispositions have a gender bias? Are women more likely to be facilitators and men teachers?


How would we know if this idea held true for children, that their rejection of teaching ws an inbuilt feature of their character rather than just a result of bad teaching which has put them off being taught? I suppose we would need to do some research involving identical twins separated at birth. Does anybody have any actual evidence for this idea? I am not rejecting the notion out of hand, but it seems to be to be inherently implausible and something of a cop-out for poor quality teaching. I say this, because I have frequently heard teachers advance the same argument when their pupils are failing. They say things like 'What can you expect from that family?' or 'Oh the kids from that estate are all the same!' In other words, they too attribute the fact that their pupils are not thriving academically not to their own shortcomings as teachers but to this same biological determinism. Some kids are born to fail at school. Can this be true?

21 comments:

  1. I do think some people aren't natural teachers, or at least with their own children. A person I know was a teacher but put her kids back in school because she just couldnt get through to them. In my case my children respond incredibly well to my teaching them most of the time but I CAN NOT teach my daughter Maths in a way she comprehends. We butt heads and I can't get through to her. I don't feel this is all my fault or all hers, but I do think she is not predispositioned to learn this area and rejects it instantly.
    Maybe it is poor quality teaching on my part, but then my 10 year old is working at the same level as my older daughter and has no problem comprehending, understanding and working with me.

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  2. 'A person I know was a teacher but put her kids back in school because she just couldnt get through to them'

    Yes, I have a friend who is a teacher and exactly the same thing happened. I am not using these posts to criticise anybody else's teaching or suggest that failure at teaching is caused by slackness; I am honestly intrugued by this question. It is also true that one can have a brilliant teacher in a school and that some of her pupils will still not learn. I am wondering if the roots of these problems might lie in very early childhood, in the first attempts of the child to explore and learn about her environment.
    Simon.

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  3. I am not a fan of biological determinism at all. I believe that environment is hugely important in determining children's lives. But that doesn't mean that we can get identical (or sometimes even similar) outcomes by treating children in the same way. This is because human beings are complex - very!

    You simply can't recommend one approach that works for 'people' because people are so shaped by their experiences that (even by a year old) they are very different from each other.

    Then there is the fact that all teaching and learning relationships are human relationships. Human beings respond to each other in complicated ways, don't they? So when we attempt to teach/ show each other things it is about far more than the smooth transition of knowledge. Here's an example: I had a teacher for English A level who I found a bit of an irritating character (that's me being polite) and though I loved the subject I was (being seventeen) rather keen to convey my attitude to him. Did this get in the way of my learning? Yes, I'm sure it did. He was a good teacher, I was interested in the subject matter and I was reasonably intelligent. But I was seventeen and found him irritating and couldn't get over myself enough to engage properly with what he was offering.

    That's life, isn't it? We have no magic bullets when it comes to learning because we don't have magic bullets when it comes to human relationships.

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  4. Well said, Allie!

    I'm not at all sure why HEers get quite so hung up on a dichotomy between teaching and facilitating. I suspect that most of us are talking about the same sort of behaviour. For example, Simon's descriptions of what he did in *teaching* Simone correspond very well with my descriptions of *facilitating* my children. The difference may be between Simon's and my intentions (in that he claims to have had a body of knowledge he had decided to impart and I do not). Or it may simply be semantic.

    I do not claim to teach - not because I am looking for excuses for failure but because I have found that what corresponds to the word "teach" in my head does not match what I do and have done with my own children.

    Before I am accused of not knowing what I am talking about, I have experience of teaching both children (in Sunday school and midweek clubs) and adults (through work in IT training and as an AL for the OU).

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  5. 'I'm not at all sure why HEers get quite so hung up on a dichotomy between teaching and facilitating.'

    An interesting point. I always did whatever seemed necessary to get my child to be a well rounded and educated individual and never considered that I was following any particular ideology. Nevertheless, there are those who do adhere to an ideology which means that they are careful to avoid planning and delivering an education unless their children request it. I never thought overmuch about an underlying theoretical basis for what I was doing; my methods were purely pragmatic. I am a little dubious about the benefits of beginning with a definite ideological foundation for dealing with a child, simply because children are all different.
    Simon.

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  6. Are you not talking to me? Is that why you've referred to me as Anonymous? Or are there just not enough Anonymice around today?

    (BTW, I agree with you about not having an ideological basis.)

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  7. 'Are you not talking to me? Is that why you've referred to me as Anonymous? Or are there just not enough Anonymice around today?'

    Ah Shena, as if I would be so discourteous! Anonymous is the tag which Blogspot now gives me, being apparently unable to recognise me any more. I did not type in 'Anonymous said...'; it is what blogspot now puts on all my comments. Sorry if this appears rude, but the fault lies not with me but with the technology.

    Simon.

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  8. Shena wrote,
    "I'm not at all sure why HEers get quite so hung up on a dichotomy between teaching and facilitating. I suspect that most of us are talking about the same sort of behaviour."

    I wrote about this idea originally and suggested that the majority use a mix of approaches and only a small minority tend towards the extremes, possibly when an 'extreme' parent meets an 'extreme' child (and they can be extreme for any number of reasons, biological, experience, interactions between particular individuals, etc). I certainly don't think that it's all biologically determined as Simon seems to have surmised from my words. I agree that, for the majority of the time in the majority of families (including ours), it's difficult to tell the difference between teaching and facilitating. I've said before that to an outsider, our family interactions would look very like Simon's descriptions of his family life.

    Simon wrote,
    "Nevertheless, there are those who do adhere to an ideology which means that they are careful to avoid planning and delivering an education unless their children request it. I never thought over much about an underlying theoretical basis for what I was doing"

    Maybe, in many instances, it just looks like this *after* a method has evolved? We ended up educating autonomously, not through some initial ideological viewpoint but through trial an error. The system we settled on evolved over a few years and this has been the case for all the HE families I know whichever method or mix of methods they settled on in the end (and even then, methods tend to continue evolving as a child matures). I also know that this was the case for the Fortune-Woods so Simon cannot even claim that this well known AE family initially approached HE from an ideological standpoint.

    Now to me, looking at your blog, your position looks idealogical - you believe in the adult defining what will be learnt and planning (with flexibility) the most effective way to deliver that body of knowledge to the child. But it seems that neither of us started out with set plans, and things just look different when viewed retrospectively.

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  9. Simon wrote,
    "If I make a poor job of accomplishing some task, whether it is teaching physics or fixing a car, I tend to assume that the fault lies in me and not in the car or the child."

    Well yes. That's what I meant when I suggested that some parent's are going to be better teachers than others. The 'fault' of poor teaching lies with the parent. But this also means that children can be poor receivers of teaching or good receivers of teaching. Parents and children are humans with varying skills however those skills were developed (biologically or environmentally). Why would the 'fault' never be with the child unless they are blank, faultless slates?

    Fault is the wrong word though, because they are just differences. Children are different and learn in different ways to each other. How could anyone expect all children to react in the same way to identical stimulus? A poor teacher can more than make up for their lack in this area by being an excellent facilitator which could well include finding and providing excellent teachers if a child responds well to adult-led teaching.

    "If there are natural born teachers, then I suppose that there must also be natural born mechanics, natural born electricians and natural born architects as well."

    I've no idea if it's biologically or environmentally determined (I suspect a mix but have no idea of proportions), but some people can repair virtually anything and others tend to break them more if they attempt a repair. I've seen this with my own eyes. Unless you are suggesting that everyone is equally capable of becoming mechanics, electricians or architects? Are you suggesting that babies are blank slates at birth and can be directed successfully along any route a skilled parent or carer chooses?

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  10. "'Oh the kids from that estate are all the same!' In other words, they too attribute the fact that their pupils are not thriving academically not to their own shortcomings as teachers but to this same biological determinism. Some kids are born to fail at school."

    This isn't necessarily biological determinism. It could just reflect a groups attitude to education. We have all heard of occasions where a child has been bullied/teased for appearing to enjoy education or do well in class. It must be difficult for teachers to work against these ingrained attitudes. Not born to fail, but conditioned to fail.

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  11. Anonymous said ...
    "Unless you are suggesting that everyone is equally capable of becoming mechanics, electricians or architects?"

    This PoV seems to be to be one of the main failings of the school system. The underpinning assumption is that if a child fails, then it is because they are not trying hard enough and it is their fault. I do assume that there is some biological component to "intelligence", "cleverness" or whatever you care to call it. Thus, I started EHE with a presumption that my children, with two degree-educated parents, would be genetically predisposed to be good at academic learning. I also provided an environment that would foster such learning, partially because I enjoy academic things (amongst others) and naturally shared that with them.

    Nature or nurture? I have no idea and it would be very difficult to devise a controlled experiment that would allow us to determine which. Similarly, I tend to think that children who are not academic at school do much better in EHE because their parents provide a suitable environment - who is more interested in the outcome for individual children than their parents (if only so that they can be cared for rather than caring :D)?

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  12. "Nature or nurture? I have no idea and it would be very difficult to devise a controlled experiment that would allow us to determine which."

    We (or possibly more likely our children!) may find out in 2066 when this study is unsealed,

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15629096

    Interestingly, the twins in the article say:

    ""Twins really do force us to question what is it that makes each of us who we are. Since meeting Elyse, it is undeniable that genetics play a huge role — probably more than 50 percent," Bernstein says."

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  13. I should have specified an *ethical* controlled experiment.

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  14. To be fair, the researchers claim that separation of identical twins was a policy of the adoption agency, not a result of the research. They claim that being brought up separately was considered to be in the children's best interests at that time. Through this doesn't excuse the lack of informed consent.

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