“After school we have fun.”

The unfortunate quote above is from a six year-old. It shows a split or gulf between normal life and school. It also shows a difference between the way humans lived and learnt as hunter-gatherers and how we live and learn today as Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic societies or WEIRD as Jared Diamond’s acronym describes it in his new book The World Until Yesterday. To quote Prof Diamond,

In another example, among Africa’s Mbuti Pygmies studied by Colin Turnbull, children imitate their parents by playing with a tiny bow and arrow, a strip of a hunting net, or a miniature basket, and by building a miniature house, catching frogs, and chasing a cooperative grandparent who agrees to pretend to be an antelope. “For children, life is one long frolic interspersed with a healthy sprinkle of spankings and slappings… And one day they find the games they have been playing are not games any longer but the real thing, for they have become adults. The hunting is now real hunting; their tree climbing is in earnest search of inaccessible honey; their acrobatics on the swings are repeated almost daily, in other forms, in the pursuit of elusive game, or in avoiding the malicious forest buffalo. It happens so gradually that they hardly notice the change at first, for even when they are proud and famous hunters their life is still full of fun and laughter.” (I’m assuming the quote is from Turnbull).

A regular feature of the games of hunter-gatherer societies and the smallest farming communities is their lack of  competition or contests … Whereas American games involve keeping score and are about winning and losing, it is rare for hunter-gatherers to keep score or identify a winner… Instead games often involve sharing, to prepare children for adult life… Modern American society differs from traditional societies in the number, source and claimed functions of toys… In contrast, traditional societies have few or no toys and any toys that do exist are made either by the child itself or by the child’s parents.

Compared to formal education in the west in which specially trained instructors teach material set by school boards as an activity separate from play, education in small scale societies is not a separate activity. Children in traditional societies learn in the course of accompanying their parents and other adults, and of hearing stories told by adults and other children around the campfire. Not only have American children become alienated from education but from each other also.

Diamond says his friends from Papua New Guinea were astonished on being told that American children need specified places, times, and instruction (“mummy and me” classes) in order to learn how to meet and play with each other. (Pages 204-206).

One drawback to the Western approach is that education is divided into subjects. Teaching topics would be holistic and integrated. So, cooking in home economics, for example, is an opportunity to teach chemistry (mixing different elements to create a new compound) and maths (an opportunity to teach ratio and percentages). This is teaching in topics, teaching a theme rather than teaching divisively in subjects.

Lack of fun in education and school is now a serious problem. Only today my 14 year-old (in secondary) told me after school, “We were having a laugh about secret santa when the teacher shouted, ‘stop laughing or I’ll move you.'” And from this post you can see the lack of fun in primary continues through to secondary schooling. Great!

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This entry was posted in Education, Parenting, School, Society and Culture, Treatment of Children and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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