Imagine a paper cup with a plastic lid and a straw. Now imagine what would happen if you tried to fill that cup without first taking off the lid. I hope you imagined a tiny amount might get through that straw into the cup but, for the most part, the water runs over the top and down. Children are like cups of water with a straw and a lid. If we attempt to pour information into them without first taking off the lid, only a small portion of that information will sink in. Let me explain.
Inspire not Require was one of my very biggest difficulties with TJed or Leadership Education. I used to be hung up on the not require part and didn’t have a clue what inspire meant. My mom always said, “Life is not a Dog and Pony Show.” and I couldn’t understand how to “inspire” without “require” without creating the proverbial "Dog and Pony Show.” After all, my only experience with learning that didn’t include gimmicky tricks was worksheets and requirements and checklists. How could anyone learn anything without being told what to learn in what order?
Rewind two years… The Lord showed me a tender mercy and introduced me to a woman who I call a dear friend now. She was passionate about Leadership Education and she was ok with me not getting it. She welcomed me and my children with open arms and allowed me to read and discuss and question as much as I desired. Over time, the Lord worked on me and finally I had a change or philosophy. It wasn’t entirely overnight and I continue to understand more and more. My most recent aha was WHAT it means to Inspire not Require.
Inspiring doesn’t mean I need to pull out all the stops and do a jig in front of my children or students. It doesn’t mean I need to do anything flashy or trick children into learning. It means I need to give them an opportunity to realize they have a question before learning can take place. THIS is taking off the lid! Then, after the child has formed the question, then, and only then, can he or she really understand the material. In other words, there needs to be a spark of curiosity and a reason to learn the material. Things can not be presented in isolation just because we need to cover certain content in a certain grade because the state says so.
For example, I could show my children several coins, explain their denominations and then give a worksheet requiring them to count up the pictured toys and tell how many of each coin would be needed to pay for the product OR I could get several toys and write on the white board what they cost, hand the children a pile of money and announce we are going to play store today. Then when they choose to “buy” a toy that costs 75 cents and they hand me 10 pennies, I can teach them that they only handed me 10 cents and guide them through selecting the right change through questions and discussion. Through our discussion, in context, the child will see that the penny equals 1 cent, nickel equals 5 cents, etc. and be able to apply that knowledge in a meaningful way. Not only that, but he won’t need to do worksheet after worksheet until it has been drilled into his head that a dime is 10 cents because he has physically seen that a dime equals 10 cents. His efforts, struggles, and discoveries will facilitate faster, more masterful learning and retention than any amount of worksheets will facilitate. The knowledge that a dime is worth 10 cents is worthless unless you plan to use a dime to purchase something. Until that child has a reason to learn money denominations, it is just a theoretical exercise. It is not meaningful and learning is content driven. Once that child has a question about the denominations, that learning has value and the child learn far more than otherwise.
As long as I keep in mind the importance of taking off the lid before trying to pour information in, I find my children learn far deeper than if I try to give them a worksheet or requirement according to some arbitrary standard. Waiting for the question to be formed before giving the answer requires patience and sometimes a little creativity, but it is so worth it.
I continue my thoughts on education in tomorrow’s post here.