Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Mother of Studies

Yesterday, we signed up our children for Kumon math.  It is a Japanese-founded after school program that involves lots of worksheets and repetition.  This, when I was in college for teaching, was how we were told not to encourage a child to learn.  We called such exercises "drill and kill".

This is an example of Western dualism.  Things tend to be either/or.  Seeing some error in the "drill and kill" approach, America's schools jumped to the other end of the spectrum where everything was student driven, discovery, open-ended.

So as to not be dualistic, let me be clear - those things are not bad.  They are a vital part of learning.  However, by perceiving repetition (practice) as dull, boring, mind-numbing, non-creative; we have pulled out a key foundational point that makes deeper learning possible.

During the Kumon presentation, the instructor explained that the program is based on systematic progression.  A child achieves mastery of one level before they move on to the next.  She explained, "To move a child on to algebra when his numeration skills are not second nature is pointless."

I almost screamed, "Amen Sister!!"

In our rejection of a "Drill and Kill" approach, we have consigned myriads of students to a limp skill base, yet we push them into higher and higher academics, regardless of their weak foundation.

I am learning lines for the part of Oberon in Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream.  To do so I will need to go over these lines countless times.  To go on stage without these lines being second nature would be.... pointless.

No one is saying that the learning of lines isn't a little dry.  It is often the case in life that we must do the foundational (and perhaps boring) work before the joy of the performance can be experienced.  We can enjoy a concert pianist, but may be unaware of the infinite amount of "drill and kill" that occurred prior to the concert.

We do our children a dis-service by allowing them to bypass the repetitive practice that will bring proficiency.

An ex-nun I used to teach with would often quote an old Latin proverb:

repetitio est mater studiorum

Repetition is the mother of studies.

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