Involve me and I learn

(Captatio: This post will probably be all over the place, like my thoughts were at the time of writing. Please bear with me.)

“Then came the performance of The Flying Classroom. […] At the line ‘Lessons on the spot itself’ the teachers laughed as much as Sebastian had hoped.”*
(Erich Kästner: The Flying Classroom—Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer; translated by Anthea Bell; Pushkin Children’s Books, 2014)

In Kästner’s 1933 classic, teenage Jonathan ‘Johnny’ Trotz writes a play for his boarding school’s Christmas celebration. The play depicts the future of education in a teenager’s vivid imagination. They have a TARDIS of some kind, and they can visit places and times as the lesson requires. There are no full-frontal classroom lectures—kids in the future learn directly from the experience. Hence the line ‘Lessons on the spot itself’.

In the lockdown, our kids’ education becomes a new kind of challenge. Much of it is endless assignments that the kids and the parents are supposed to figure out with a lot less assistance from the school than before. Teachers and kids are still trying to find a handle on the situation. In the meantime, social media keeps broadcasting lectures that insist on the importance of diligent work—and the opposite kind of lectures that say we should just ignore the school and give our time to the kids. (I’m quite tired of both kind of social-media lectures, if you haven’t guessed already—and if I appear to be lecturing, I profusely apologize.)

At the same time, the lockdown takes away a lot of stimuli, which makes people stir-crazy—even a large screen cannot make up for the experience of being there.

I think now is the best time to figure out how to move from the full-frontal methods—that most educators still apply, especially in our little failed state—to a learning experience that exposes students to various situations, and involves them in the process as equals. I’m saying this because the full-frontal method simply doesn’t work online, with webinars and all. And for the most part, so far it is replaced by no assistance or guidance at all.

“Tell me and I forget; teach me and I remember; involve me and I learn.” This popular quote is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, or else Confucius (in fact, the Quote Investigator concludes that there is no credible source). The last time I heard it was in the second-season finale of the Netflix show called ‘Anne with an E’—which, by the way, is one of the most uplifting and instructive binge-watches of the corona season. In this story, set in 1897, a female teacher in the village of Avonlea teaches her students about electricity by building a potato battery and connecting it to a lightbulb.

Nothing teaches you better than being there. We are privileged, we go places—but I think educators and their regulators should sponsor that as standard practice (when we can travel again, that is). Last year, we visited Auschwitz; and to learn about mechanics and transportation, we used to go to the ‘airport visits’ available in my city. The photo above is from one of those.

The next best thing is video and interactive, augmented reality. For example, my son found this about a guy moving out to nature to wait out the pandemic while fending for himself; and when he asked how one becomes a citizen of a country, I recommended the Hungarian movie called ‘The Citizen’. I strongly believe that educational technology will improve to include augmented reality. In the meantime, I also believe that we as parents can do best to help them not by rushing them through school-assigned drills** but by directing them to alternative learning experiences. Which gives an incentive to use their screens for good. (Guess what, here I am, lecturing. But this was meant to be a note to myself.)

I don’t think I told you anything new here. I also wish I could be as consistent a parent in our days as I appear to suggest above.

* This is not your favorite quote from The Flying Classroom. Your favorite quote is “You are a good man, and you deserve for all of your students to grow up to be good men”, from the last pages of the book. This quote is featured in one of the opening scenes of ‘Brazil’, and sets a fundamentally humanist undertone for the movie. Or so I believe.
** I actually did the math homework for my daughter at least once.

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