In the 1970s, Tex Schramm, General Manager of the Dallas Cowboy’s was a lone voice trying to convince the National Football League’s owners that referees should be using instant replay to aid them in officiating games. He was asked, “Why do we need to have instant replay?” Schramm famously pointed to a television in the room and said, “Gentlemen, we already have it.”
There is a lot of talk in education circles of late about schools allowing children to control and direct their own learning. We’ve created “genius hours” and a myriad of methods and templates of inquiry learning and all kinds of impressive sounding buzzwords and jargon with varying degrees of success and resistance without realizing one very important thing:
Children already do control and direct their own learning.
The child who failed your math test because he didn't study his formulas? He controlled his own learning and your math lessons weren’t on his agenda. The girl who memorized the teammates who assisted on every one of Lionel Messi’s goals this season and the opponents against whom he’s scored each? Totally directed her own learning. She directed it toward La Liga, not your Science class.
To the cries in education circles that are shouting to the world, “We need self-directed learning!” I point you back to Mr. Schramm.
Teachers, we already have it.
The challenge is not in inventing ways to get children to direct their own learning. They are plenty good at that already. Maybe instead what we teachers should admit is that we want them to direct their own learning toward topics we select. Or maybe we'd just be better served getting over ourselves and going along for the ride with the children as they direct their own learning in spite of us, and stop stressing them out by trying force and coerce them into situations where they don't want to be. We'd all be much happier for it. The children might even surprise us and tell us they want to know a little about the topics we are now unsuccessfully force feeding them.