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Myths of Education

By Heather Martinson
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What do these people have in common?

Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson,
C.S. Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Claude
Monet, Florence Nightingale, Beatrix
Potter, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T.
Washington, George Washington,
Martha Washington, Phyllis
Wheatley, Laura Ingalls Wilder,
Serena & Venus Williams, Orville &
Wilbur Wright, John Quincy Adams,
Louisa May Alcott, Hans Christian
Anderson, Susan B. Anthony,
Alexander Graham Bell, James
Buchanan, Pearl Buck, Andrew
Carnegie, George Washington
Carver, Charles Chaplin, Winston
Churchill, Samuel Clemens, Pierre
Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Benjamin

Besides the fact that each of them displayed some very impressive skills, an
interesting thing about all these people is that they were all educated outside
of traditional schooling methods.
When I was in school and would learn about people like this, I recall how we
were told (with a tone of awe) how amazing it is that these people were able to
accomplish so much despite their lack of formal education. But over my years
involved with education and learning, Ive come to learn the truth about these
people: They were able to accomplish so much because of their lack of formal
You see, if all you want is to be just like everyone else, all you need to do is to
go ahead and do what everyone else does. But in order to become something
different from everyone else, it is required that you do things differently. So
rather than standardizing education, and thus standardizing children, a more
powerful approach to education is to help each child find their uniqueness and
to expand on their own personal genius.

Unfortunately, throughout history, mainstream education has had as their

objective to make a homogeneous (pronounced homo-genius) society, when
what we should seek to do is to inspire a society of geniuses.

Take a look at these advances over the last 100 years:

Transportation in 1910:
Transportation today:

Communication in 1842:
Communication today:

1897 Classroom:

Classroom today:

As you can see, education as a whole has not yet entered this century.
There are some great programs out there, but the majority of learning
situations still uphold some of the largest myths ever placed on
Here are some of these myths that are keeping schools in the last century.
Myth #1: A safe campus equals a good learning environment.
Truth is, there's a lot more to a school house than physical safety. How do the
students feel as they enter the campus?
In addition to being physically safe, schools should be emotionally
safe. Emotion is the gatekeeper to learning. Students should associate positive
emotions to their learning experiences.
School should be a place of possibility,
creativity, hope, and challenge. Children
should be safe from belittling by
teachers and bullying from peers.
Further, the environment should be
welcoming, to the point that it is a place
where students want to be. The goal
would be for the students have these
emotions as they enter the campus. I
Like everything on Earth just got a little bit better.
Like I am home.
Like living here, a magical place full of happiness.
The facility itself should be inspiring and give the feeling that anything is
School should also introduce learning to the student. The campus can be an
enriched environment thatreflects what is being taught. Rooms should be
simple, uncluttered, and inspiring.
To give the students a connection to the world, school should have outdoor
space where they have plenty of room to run about. This outdoor space should
also have access to nature there should be shade trees, garden areas, and
real dirt for the children to explore!

Myth #2: Compulsory education means that all children will learn.
Truth is, children are natural learners and don't need to be forced to learn.
Students should actually get to choose the projects that they would like to do.
This is one of those golden principles that is rarely utilized.
Instead of offering bland, one-size-fits-all worksheets, we should offer a
smorgasbord of learning opportunities!
What is amazing is how accurately children are able to choose the material that
suits them. Projects that are too easy for them are boring. Children want to
choose something thats new for them, but not too difficult. They are good at
choosing activities that are right at their learning level.

Students will also choose topics and

projects that are of great interest to
themselves. Because of this, they'll learn
the topics faster because they're
interested. With these meaningful
experiences, they will remember it for
Given the opportunity to learn what they
want, you may be surprised that
students will come to love learning and
will happily delve into topics. Therefore,
it is also important that we allow
adequate time for the students to learn.
Rather than giving a child a worksheet and ten minutes to fill it out, children
should be allowed to investigate a subject for as long as they like, often
extending their research and project beyond expectations.
Talking about being a teacher, John Taylor Gatto said, I teach kids to turn on
and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my
lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing
vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that
they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station.
Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.
The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply
about anything...? Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.
Dividing all our learning up into flavor-less bite-sized pieces is like eating a cake
one ingredient at a time. That would be icky! Rather, when we allow children to
choose their own learning experiences, they're not going to choose single
ingredients, but they will have a much richer experience, where all school
subjects are fair game. It so much more meaningful this way!
So don't limit their learning let them go! Allow them to master a topic. Years
ago, homeschool momKaren Kindrick Cox allowed her children to study caves.
They decided to turn their bathroom into a cave. The transformation was long
and involved. When completed, the new environment was allowed to stay for
two weeks, until the children we satisfied with what they had done and learned.
Don't limit the learning!
Myth #3: Words alone equals intelligence.
Truth is, there are multiple intelligences.
While words are immensely important, they are not the only form of
intelligence that matters. In most schools, only linguistic and mathematic
intelligences are valued. Perhaps because they are the easiest types of
intelligence to measure.

Psychologist Howard Gardner has taught us that there are many intelligences
that are valuable and also indicate success in life. These intelligences include
linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial,
interpersonal, intrapersonal, and natural intelligences.
So while schools spend so much time working on only two of the intelligences,
children who possess different intelligences are labeled as learning delayed.
But in reality, if all students are allowed to learn within their own intelligences,
then they are using their brains the way they learn most naturally. When their
brains are used within their dominant intelligences, then all intelligences are
Myth #4: More deskwork equals more learning.
Truth is, students need to move!
People assume that the longer a student spends sitting on task at a desk, the
more learning is happening. In reality, after sitting for a few minutes, the
brains ability to process information is greatly reduced. The students should
not sit for long, but should be allowed to move about the room and be active
participants in the learning process.
Sitting at a desk, the student is mostly dealing with one form of learning
symbols. These symbols are the letters and numbers that make up the
textbooks and workbooks that most children are consigned to use. But there
are some real downfalls to relying on symbols only. For example, read the
following paragraph:
These are spiny, hard-skinned animals that live on the rocky sea floor. These
invertebrates are NOT fish; they are echinoderms. They move very slowly along

the seabed, using hundreds of tiny tube feet. There are over 2,000 different
species of worldwide.
Did you guess sea star or star fish? You would be right. But most people
imagine something more like a sea cucumber.

Words alone can be confusing and may not give a clear image of a
subject. Better is if the students could also have pictures of the subject. As they
say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So much more can be learned with an
image of the item.

Yet better than a picture would be is if a teacher takes the time to present a
life-like representation of the item, the learning is deeper. Let's imagine the
teacher made a sea star out of sand paper. The students may be able to feel
the texture and perhaps the teacher could have a removable flap where the
students could see what might be inside the sea star.
Better than a likeness of an item would be if the teacher can show the real
object. This would have the most accurate information about what a sea star
looks like, feels like, smells like, etc.
Even better would be if the teacher could immerse the students in the subject
by creating a life-like sea star environment. The room could look like a beach

and she could bringing in a touch tank and allowing the students to touch living
sea stars.
Finally, the ultimate way to learn about a topic is to actually go to the real thing
in its natural setting. When students visit a tide pool at the ocean, the learning
is profound. They are learning with all their senses, and they are also learning
so much about the environment that a sea star exists in. These are the things
that the students will go home and tell Mom about. When Susie comes home
and says, Did you know that or Guess what I saw? This is when the
student is spontaneously sharing the things that she learned that day. Also,
after being exposed to the subject in such a profound way, the child is more
likely to take an interest in the subject and choose to learn more, often in the
form of books. They like to build on what they are familiar with.

Myth #5: Passed tests means learning happened.

Truth is, tests are poor assessment tools.
According to educational psychologist
Benjamin Bloom, giving multiple choice
or fill-in-the-blank tests are the lowest
form of assessing a students
understanding of a subject. Additionally,
a student who prepares for such
superficial learning assessments are less
likely to have a truly thorough learning
experience with the material.
When students are only required to
regurgitate simple facts about the
covered material, they are missing out
on much deeper learning experiences,
ones that create lasting memories of the
Take a look at my version of Blooms
Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. In
comparing assessment strategies to an

iceberg, you can see how simple knowledge and comprehension assessments
are only the tip of the iceberg of potential learning experiences.
To create more meaningful learning and assessments, we can:

Allow the students to use the information by applying it to real-life


Allow the students analyze the material. Can it be graphed? Dissected?

How does this information relate to other topics?

Allow the students to change the use of the information. Can it be used
applied to a different setting? Can it be used in conjunction with other
information? How can the information be synthesized? Is there another way
to express the information?

Allow the students to evaluate the subject. Is it valuable? Is it necessary?

Is it even worth studying? Do you want to study it some more?
Give your children the
opportunity to show their
work in the form of projects
and activities that relate to
the topic. Let the learning
come to life. As they are
given these deeper
experiences, they just
might need to study the
topic more deeply. Diving
down deeper, students are
given the chance to really
come to know a topic. It is
more meaningful and
remembered for longer.
The biggest drawback to these different assessments is that they are more
difficult to quantify how much learning has been accomplished. This is the
main reason why schools rarely leave the tip of the iceberg.
My personal favorite reason to use these meaningful approaches is because
the students are more likely to take an interest in the topic and to have a
desire to know more and master subjects. It turns them into autodidacts and
lifelong learners!!
Myth #6: High standards means no child is left behind.
Truth is, there are no standard children.
Some people feel that the first step to increase a child's intelligence is to raise
the standards and then to make sure that all children perform according to
those standards.
But standards no matter how high are nothing more than a compilation of
information that the average child should be able to learn within a given year.
Personally, I'm not interested in a classroom of average children. I believe that
there is no such thing as a standard child. Even if there were, I wouldn't
want my child to be standardized! Sadly, with the no child left behind

attitude, the schools spend way too many resources on making sure that the
children do not fall behind. This creates a situation where children are
constantly struggling to keep up. I believe that every child has special abilities.
But if all their time is spent in catching up, they won't have time to enhance
their special skills that make them unique. And if their special abilities continue
to be ignored, they may lose those talents.
Now I'm not saying that we should not have high expectations. We should.
Children tend to live up to our expectations. We just need to stay away from
standardizing those expectations. When we do we limit our children both our
special needs children and our gifted students.
Read this fable to more fully understand what standards really do to children:

The Animal School

A Fable by George Reavis
Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet
the problems of a new world so they organized a school. They had adopted
an activity curriculum consisting of running,
climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it
easier to administer the curriculum, all the
animals took all the subjects.
The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact,
better than his instructor. But he made only
passing grades in flying and was very poor in
running. Since he was slow in running, he
had to stay after school and also drop
swimming in order to practice running. This
was kept up until his webbed feet were badly
worn and he was only average in swimming.
But average was acceptable in school so
nobody worried about that, except the duck.
The rabbit started at the top of the class in
running but had a nervous breakdown
because of so much makeup work in
The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the
flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the
treetop down. He also developed a charlie horse from overexertion and then
got a C in climbing and D in running.
The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing
class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own
way to get there.
At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and
also run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.
The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the
administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They
apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and
gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

Myth #7: More school means success.
Truth is, schooling is helpful but not necessary for success.
This is where we differentiate between schooling and learning.
A good education can translate into success in life, but the connection between
more time spent in school and success in life is weak.
From preschool and up, children are told they need to do well in school so that
they can go to a good college, so that they can get a good job. We all know this
doctrine, and many feel that to preach otherwise is akin to child abuse.
But where does it really get us? Students retire from school, never wanting to
study again in their lives. They aim to get that good 9-5 job, get a family, then
settle in to a life of luxury, materialism, and complaining about the weather.
Outside of their job and home, their connection to the world is whatever comes
to them on TV or the Internet. They live for the weekend, entertainment,
fashion, and comfort. They are the obedient and faithful consumers they were
trained to be. They have been socialized.
In contrast, the individuals who choose to step outside the expected norms are
the ones who seem happier. These are the they who are less likely to follow the
trends, but to set them. They are the ones who are in a position to really make
a difference in the world.
Children should have the opportunity to see beyond the day-to-day life of a
consumer and look forward to a much richer life as a contributor. Contributing
is such a powerful motivator. Yet children should not have to wait until they're
grown to make a difference. They should be free to get involved now. Some of
the most profound experiences in their young lives can be had by striking out
and doing dynamic things today. Now is the time for them to start taking part in
the stuff that really means something to themselves and to the world. That's
when a student can get a sense that he is an important individual. That he is
valued for his abilities. He can gain the confidence to try something new. To
reach out of his comfort zones and to stand out in the crowd. This is the
education that is possible and this is the education that our children deserve.
Myth #8: Homework means the material will be learned.
Truth is, the learning brain needs immediate feedback. Delayed feedback can
slow learning.
In traditional schools, a student learns a concept one day, does the homework
for it that night, turns it in the next day, and the teacher takes it home to
correct it that night, and the assignment is returned to the student the
following day two whole days after the work is done. Brain research has
taught us that the longer incorrect information stays in the brain, the harder it
is to correct it. Additionally, by the time feedback is given on the homework,
the student no longer has an interest in the assignment, as the class has
moved on, whether or not the material was actually learned. Getting feedback
on the spot saves time and confusion. The correct answer should be reinforced
right away.

Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy has proposed a new approach to
learning. He calls it a flipped classroom. What Salman recommends is that
students first use the Internet to learn topics, then time at school could be used
for homework time. That way, when the students are practicing what they
learn, they can get the immediate feedback from their teacher, thus excelling
the learning experience.
Myth #9: Forced children are smart children.
Truth is, fear is a poor motivator.
I've had credentialed teachers tell me about how important it is to keep a tight
reign on the students because if you don't have a quiet and orderly classroom,
nobody's going to learn anything. So they instigate systems to keep the
children behaved. These include rewards and punishments.
I find that there are three main ways that students or anyone are motivated.
1. The lowest form is through threats. Unfortunately, fear of punishments is
a bad motivator. These fears can cause undue stress and the brain does
not function as well in situations of stress and fear.Children should be free
from judgments in the form of testing, grading, and categorizing by ability.
2. A better motivator than fear of punishment is hope for reward. Yet, this
can also inhibit learning. I once learned this lesson the hard way. When my
youngest son was perhaps five, he enjoyed drawing fire and he did it well
for his age. One time he drew a flame that was very creative. I
complimented him on that particular flame. What a mistake!
Unfortunately, all the subsequent flames he drew were all the same
creative flame. Over and over. For months the only flames he drew were
all patterned after the one I complimented. His creativity was stunted
because he liked the positive attention I gave him.
The two motivators I have mentioned so far are both extrinsic motivators.
3. The final motivator I'd like to share is an intrinsic motivator. It is that
children will do the right thing because it's the right thing to do.
The brain is a self-congratulator. We feel good when we do what's right and do
it well. We should provide opportunities for our children to make their own
choices so that they may have the opportunity learn and practice this selfmotivation.
In the end, self-motivation is more important to the student than even than the
content of the information presented in a quiet classroom. The information in
the classroom will be forgotten, but self-motivation is a life-long skill that can
apply to success in all areas of life, including education.
They will drive themselves to know more.
Myth #10: Credentialed teachers means the children will be taught
Truth is, children learn more from experience, environment, parents and peers.
We have already discussed how children learn from their own experiences and
from the environment.

Children are always learning from their

parents. They learn to speak English
from their parents. It's an immersion
program. Surprisingly, it's just about as
easy for a child to learn to read the
English language from their parents, if
they will immerse their child in the
printed language.
A credentialed teacher is trained to
teach a large group of children all at the
same time. They simply don't have time
to give individualized attention. Parents
have a very small number of children to
teach. In this situation, the students get
a lot more one-on-one attention. This
individual attention is far more valuable than all the degrees a teacher might
It can be quite surprising how much children can learn from their peers. In most
schools, children helping each other is called cheating. Those schools are
missing out on a the powerful tool called collaboration. It is amazing to see the
output from students of varying abilities and interests working together.
Professor Sugata Mitra did an
experiment where children in
India are given free and public
access to computers and the
Internet. The children were not
taught how to use the
computers, but they were
allowed to explore and learn on
their own. Additionally, as
individual children learned how
to do things, they enjoyed
sharing their findings wit
h their friends. In this
environment, the children:

Became computer literate on their own.

Taught themselves enough English to use email, chat and search engines.

Learned to search the Internet for answers.

Improve their English pronunciation on their own.

Improved their mathematics and science scores in school.

Answer examination questions several years ahead of time.

Changed their social interaction skills and value systems.

Formed independent opinions and were able to detect indoctrination.

Myth #11: Learning is hard, boring work.

Truth is, learning is fun! It is the excitement of the hunt!
If you're not having fun in your learning, you're missing out!
When children are happy and having fun, they are in a prime position to learn.
Emotion is the gatekeeper to learning. Making learning fun ensures increased
interest in a topic and the information becomes more memorable.
We all love theme parks and theme restaurants. Why not themed learning?
What are your children interested in? Most if not all your learning experiences
can be influenced by the theme. When new information is juxtaposed with
things they already love -- such as a favorite topic, a theme park or popular
computer game -- their interest is heightened.
When learning and fun are synonymous,
students come to really love learning even the
hard stuff!
There was a time when the artist Michelangelo
was 15 and he was working on a sculpture. He
was invited by a friend to go on a hunt.
Michelangelo turned down the opportunity. After
being chided by his friend, Michelangelo said,
"For me, marble has the excitement of the hunt." Because of his deep interest
in sculpture, Michelangelo would rather work than play. The same thing can
happen with learning. With true interest in a topic a child may have the
opportunity to enjoy the excitement of the hunt themselves. What can they
discover, uncover, create and find?
It's time to set the children free and let them learn!
Myth #12: It's impossible to change schools.
Truth is, nothing is impossible, as long as there are people who really care.
I admit that the majority of schools are far from being ready to make drastic
changes. But the rules are about to change. In todays economy, people will
need to adapt to the new circumstance.
Like the many gifted people who used alternative education in the past,
more and more families are choosing alternative learning environments for
their children today.
We don't have to wait around for someday when things change. We have
children with needs today! The future of education has already begun and it's
Who is ready to make a difference for a child today?