This letter was supposed to update you on the education of my 5-year-old, Ethan. I introduced you to Ethan in November when I chronicled the decision my wife and I made to send him to a Montessori school and delay kindergarten for a year.
But a funny thing happened. I was going to discuss how Ethan is learning to read and tell you that his teacher is doing a great job keeping us informed and letting us know how to reinforce her lessons. But out of the blue, he's become a math wiz. For about two weeks now, he seems to want to do math lessons and nothing else. (Montessori schools exist without some of the unnatural borders of most K12 schools, including set learning times.)
For whatever reason, this topic is piquing his interest right now. His math teacher told me that he's done math lessons for an hour straight five days in a row. That's a lot of concentration from a child who would forget his lunch in the car every day if I didn't remind him.
Then I realized how this connects to something I'm reading, The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith (Teachers College Press, 1998). I'm about halfway through this thought-provoking book. In it, Smith makes an argument that we all know to be true, but he recasts it in a way that makes you consider it as if for the first time.
He writes about how learning is natural, and how we all learn information important to us because we want to learn it. Stop for a second and think about some hobby, author or musician that you love. Chances are you'll remember some arcane point about plants, sports or a comment an artist made in a book or an interview. For example, I can still remember some of the jokes Lyle Lovett made the first time I saw him in concert more than 10 years ago. Why? Because I love his music, and I'm interested in how he creates his songs.
The trick, of course, is how to bring this natural joy of learning into your district's classrooms. Although I haven't finished Smith's book, I know the answer isn't easy. But I also know that it can be done. One example is shown right on our cover. Karen Oleri, the 18-year-old high school senior pictured, spent about 15 hours creating a multimedia project that lasts about 10 seconds. Sure, she learned plenty of Web design tricks, such as incorporating images from four screens into one final product. But think about what else it took to create her product. Her teacher Javier Rabelo says, "One of the main objectives is for students to become resourceful and good problem solvers. It's not just a process, but the destination" that is important.
I'd bet the lessons she learned will last a lot longer than some memorization exercise in another classroom, just as I think Ethan will continue to pursue math, until something else grabs his interest.
Think about it.