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You almost had it, Einstein…

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

“If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.” – Albert Einstein (supposedly)

The problem with this statement is that it presumes knowledge hails from a banking model rather than recognizing it proceeds from the dynamic and unwieldy craft that is pedagogy. For educators, we say, “If they [the learners] are to understand it, then I [the teacher] have to know how to convey it well.” That is partially true, but at least half of learning is accounted for by the learners. This is why we must relinquish our facade of control and allow students full access to their own meaning-making tools.

For example: At home, a student is accustomed to an environment where in order to prove they are engaged in the exchange, they must respond audibly. Yet, with every chance that student has to share interest during a lesson (or even try to shock themselves back to consciousness during a weak and poorly executed lesson), they are punished for making a sound.

The two biggest mistakes here are:

-Assuming the student should be passive in the “learning” experience

-Denying the student access to a tool that will permit them to co-construct meaning—or at least attend to the instruction

Whatever tools the instructor possesses are not the sum total of resources any student will encounter as a means of accessing said material.

What if you needed to present, say, the alphabet, to a fisher, but had no knowledge of the fisher’s deeply familiar experiences or everyday concepts. You proceed to use your background (your pedagogical vehicle) as, say, a musician, but then punish the fisher for your limited knowledge of their world. Should you research fishers? Absolutely. But what about the baker in your class? And the dancer? And the seamstress? And the paver? And…

As educators, we will never possess all the tools to reach every learner simultaneously and seamlessly, and assuming that we could is pure hubris. Knowing that we cannot and still denying students the opportunity to access content using their own tools is simply criminal.

“I never teach my pupils... I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Einstein (supposedly)

Progress, Al… progress!

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