Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Intentional Non-Learners Revisited

It has been a long time since I revisited this topic and a long time since I have posted an entry on my blog. There is so much to do every day that I've taken to placing more value on my down time. Probably a bad habit that I'm forming.

Anyway, I was researching Intentional Non-Learners and it led me back to my own entry from February, 2009. There I found a comment from a parent. His son's principal had told him that his son was a non-learner. I'm sure this made the father angry, although his comment on my blog does not come across as anger but certainly frustration and perhaps misunderstanding.

Let's be direct. If the principal actually said that the son was a non-learner, then the principal does not understand learning. The father talks about how his son asks so many questions that Dad has to ask the son to be quiet. This is indicative of an enthusiastic curiosity, which is the motivation to learn. If a kid is asking questions, he's a learner. Curiously, our schools often work to stop kids from asking questions. We kill the natural curiosity that students have, then we bemoan the fact that they don't want to learn what we want them to learn. Why do we do this? Because letting kids ask questions and make discoveries is messy business and we like everything neat and pretty and quiet and orderly. We don't really like kids that much. We would prefer that they all act like adults.

I'd prefer if adults would act more like kids from time to time.

Anyway...the term "intentional non-learner" does not mean that kids cannot learn. It means that some students choose not to learn what we want them to learn. They have decided that the system does not meet their needs, that they cannot function successfully in the system, that we don't really care about them, and that trying results in failure; therefore, why try? This is not a condemnation of the students. This is a statement against teaching practices in our schools. We not only allow students to become intentional non-learners, but we create the intentional non-learners.

This is why reform is so very important, and it begins with believing that every child can learn. From there, we begin to identify the students who are reluctant learners. We talk to the guidance counselor. We talk to the parents. Most importantly, we talk to the child. And we try to find out why the kid has decided not to do the work. Then we modify our lessons and differentiate the instruction in an attempt to engage the learner.

The desire to learn is something that we all share as human beings. It is one of the universal characteristics of the human experience that transcends all barriers and makes us able to relate to each other, to love one another. It is the responsibility of the school to nurture each student's desire to learn, not to kill it.

The Intentional Non-Learner label is not intended to dismiss students. It is intended to raise the awareness of educators so that we might better meet the needs of our students.

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