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"A Lesson is Repeated Until it is Learned"

“A lesson is repeated until it is learned.” That is Rule #4 from the Rules for Being Human, attributed to the ancient Sanskrit. We took a brief look at this set of rules, or “truths,” in last week’s post; focusing on the third rule: “There are no mistakes. Only lessons.”

Here’s the full translation of rule #4: “ A lesson is repeated until it is learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it, then you can go on to the next lesson.”

Like Rule #3, the fourth rule of being human seems to describe a process of learning that is not reflected in our modern education system. In fact, these two suggestions of how we learn are the antithesis of what many kids experience in American classrooms.

I am struck by the personalized nature and the reassuring tone of these two “rules.” Together, they suggest that it is perfectly appropriate to undertake new challenges while being comforted that coming up short is expected. It is the experience of embracing shortcomings and figuring new approaches that are central to learning. There is no need to get stressed or to freak out if things are a little rocky. You’re simply learning. And learning takes time. Time and repeated iterations of the emerging concept through a variety of applications will guarantee that true learning has occurred. We get to stay with it until “it” is mastered. Then, and only then, do we move on to the next thing: building upon what we have learned and discovered through a cycle of persistent inquiry.

I want to go to that school.

Sadly, American kids typically experience something quite different. They are confronted with a predetermined curriculum, organized through a scope and sequence of events and anticipated outcomes. We teach kids that there is really only one way to tackle a challenge. And, that one way is the one that is preferred by the instructor. And, whatever you do, don’t make a mistake or screw it up.

We put kids on a conveyer belt of common expectations, one that moves at an established rate of speed within a specific time frame. Students are instructed to “do this, in this way” as the formula for arriving at the “correct” answer. As they approach the end of the line (a unit, a term, a semester, a school year) students are expected to perform in manner that suggests some facility with the concept that was taught. That performance, however, must pass muster within the time allotted. If it does not, we attach a label of failure to the experience and move on, climbing aboard the next conveyer belt.

It is certainly not a new or original concept to suggest that a factory model, with its series of conveyer belts, may work perfectly fine in the creation of widgets. But, kids aren’t widgets. We know that. We’ve read about it. We’ve written about it. We’ve researched it. As a profession we have discussed this distinction ad nauseam. Yet, in spite of what we know and believe about how kids do, and should, learn, we keep the conveyer belts in prime operating order.

Now, I need to be fair. There are professional educators who have long shunned this approach and are utilizing more appropriate strategies with their students. I have proudly worked along side many teachers who have successfully abandoned time-honored, traditional methods and are, instead, engaging in student-centered approaches. They are true champions. They are engaging in the education kids deserve.

It’s possible that a miracle has occurred since my retirement three years ago. Maybe there has been a miraculous transformation across the educational community where all educators, 100% of them, in every corner of the country and in every postal zip code, have adjusted their practices to become child-centered and are nurturing student curiosity in classrooms of personalized inquiry. Please, tell me that has happened!

Unfortunately, I know that even in the very best schools, operating in the most forward thinking and innovative school systems, we will find “that” teacher. You know the one. (Hopefully, there’s only one.) In the interest of maintaining order and a sense of control, in the interest of teaching in a manner that was effective for him or her when they were in school, in the interest of neatly crossing the finish line, there are still those educators who comfortably ignore the Rules of Being Human, and cling, instead, to practices that deprive kids of the education they deserve.

Isn't one, or a small handful, of traditionalists acceptable in a school? Maybe, if they aren't teaching your child. Think if the scope, the sheer numbers of students who will be touched by an individual who approaches the task of teaching for learning in an outdated, ineffective manner. It's a reality we can no longer afford. We can do better. We must do better.

Rule #3 - “There are no mistakes. Only lessons.”

Rule #4 - “A lesson is repeated until it is learned.”

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