Too often we try to teach the steps to a dance before letting our students find their way by simply moving to the music. I believe that is a common failure in trying to teach almost all subject matter. Even the expression “subject matter” implies something dull and inert sitting in solid impenetrable silence unwilling or unable to engage our interest. If we step back for just a moment from our habitual “understanding” of the way we learn, really learn something new, we recognize that it is our interest that gets triggered and we follow what is experienced as an invitation into an involvement. What is true for a chance meeting at a party, is just as true for a chance meeting with a “subject”. In an odd but useful twist of our language, we could say that we subject the object of our interest to some level of scrutiny, and hope the favor is returned.
After all, we recognize upon reflection that any scholarly subject becomes worthy of academic study only as the result of the interest driven learning of a number of people over years and years of passionate intellectual involvement. Why would we think that without a parallel, if somewhat modified experience, we could learn anything? Biographies of famous and successful people are full of stories of their life’s work having been discovered almost randomly while wandering through the maze of prescribed study courses.
If we take the time to observe young children from early infancy through to the first grade we will notice that they are omnivorous learners. You can see them continually connecting the dots of what they see going on around them. I can almost hear the internal monologue of the fourteen month old in the play pen watching her three year old sister playing with friends, “oh, I get it, it’s tickle, tickle, giggle and roll. I can do that.”
By the second grade the grind begins. We learn that learning is a task; scheduled, reviewed, and examined the interest that self selects and drives our desire for understanding is channeled into curriculum and what was once a daily joy is converted into a challenge. What was play becomes work; what was collaboration becomes competition. Now we are in school. What has been forgotten is that first comes the music, then comes the dance. Without the music there is no dance.