Saturday, March 08, 2008
Crystal Sets, Electronics and English Class - How does "education" take place?
I'd like to share three stories from my childhood and youth. The stories teach us much about education. We understand that education takes place in schools and outside of schools. It also takes place inside of schools in ways that teachers do not plan. Generally speaking these two modes are called formal education and informal education. The two modes interact and effect one another.
For example, a child who gets excited about learning to play the piano, may also get excited about learning other things. The child who is inspired by love for an uncle, may want to emulate him and this may lead to him or her into doing well in school.
In my case (and there are many others who have similar stories) I was bored in school during most of my childhood. I spent many hours looking out the window of the classroom longing to be outside in the fresh air. Many subjects made little sense to me. I did not see the reason to learn them. There was no motivation to learn. My teachers varied from poor to excellent but for the most part I was not interested in learning.
When I was six years old my uncle (Taylor Fletcher) made me a crystal set radio. I can still picture him working in the corner of his garage putting together a few things and then magically, without a battery, there was sound in the headphones. Turn the knob this way you got a man reading the news in Los Angeles turn the knob a little more and there was a lady singing. To me this was magic.
When I got home I climbed a 100 foot tree next to my bedroom and somehow strung a copper wire to another tall tree 50 feet away. This was the antenna. After hooking that to the radio and then connecting another part of the radio to a water pipe for a ground, the magic came again. From my bedroom in northern California, without batteries I could listen to the world around me. I don't have a picture of the radio my uncle made, but this is similar (Thanks to Jim Frederick for permission to use the photo):
The one my uncle made for me was a bit more "bare bones" than the picture above - but you get the idea.
A few years later my family was visiting some friends outside the town where we lived. I was perhaps eight years old. In the basement of the house I found an old (and very beat up) World War II, Navy electronics training manual. It was used to teach adults about electronics but it approached the subject in very simple ways. I started to read with interest and then became excited. The owner of the house (George Dakserhoff) gave me the book. For months, every night before sleeping I read the book. Over and over I read it. Some of the words were difficult for me - like "microfarad" but I was excited and I read on and I taught myself about electronics.
School for the most part could not hold my attention. Somehow I graduated from high school and enrolled in college. The first year I did poorly. The second year a professor by the name of Mrs. Connie Mundrick changed my life forever. Until then, English was my worst subject in school. She made it clear from the beginning that the purpose of English class was to learn how to communicate your thoughts - not just to be able to write a complete sentence without errors. Something snapped into place and I became excited about writing. On the side, I started writing poetry. A year later, I had a binder with a few hundred poems.
Without my uncle making me the crystal set, without the man giving me the electronics manual and without Mrs. Mundrick's inspiration - without all of them - you would not be reading this blog.
Think of where formal education can go when institutions learn to detect, discover and guide children's natural inclinations and tendencies!
Until next time.