Beyond The Hole In The Wall: A Book That May Change Everything You Believe About Education

This story begins at the turn of the millennium with the well-known Indian educator Sugata Mitra literally used a pickaxe and shovel to create a hole in a wall separating his office from an area of neighboring slums in New Delhi, installing a networked PC in the gap thus created, facing the computer screen and keyboard toward the exterior alley, and then covering it all up with protective plastic material so that it could function rain or shine.

Then he left it there for the local children to discover and freely explore on their own, unsupervised. Using various technologies along with simple observation from his office, Mitra kept detailed chronicles of the interaction of the children with the computer and the Internet. Where did he get such an idea? I still do not know. But it was a brilliant experiment.

What these children learned from Mitra’s “hole in the wall” experiment was that kids from one of the most desperately poor areas of the world could, without instruction or supervision, quickly learn how a PC works — and much, much more. The children also freely collaborated with each other, exploring the world of high-tech online connectivity with ease. It was the dawning of Mitra’s introduction to self-organized learning, and it would shape the next decade of his research.

Sugata Mitra has written an inspiring though brief non-fiction book with Amazon’s Kindle Single program called Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning with an introduction by Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and the founder of the One Laptop Per Child association.

It is an important update on Mitra’s groundbreaking work (which many will not realize provided the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire). What I took away from my one-night’s reading of this work (it reads like a wonderfully written Atlantic Monthly or Harper’s piece of several decades ago) was that self-directed learning, meaning learning that occurs without a teacher present, can make kids smarter and more creative in environments that would seem, at first sight, to be utterly not conducive to any kind of learning at all. The fact is that human beings often learn under very difficult conditions. We must, or we don’t survive.

Sugata Mitra is a physicist, cognitive researcher, a gifted teacher and certainly one of the most intelligent and original thinkers the education establishment has produced in the last half century. He is now teaching at the University of Newcastle. At the time of the “hole in the wall” experiment, he was head of NIIT, one of the five biggest e-training institutes in the world.

The expropriate and internalization of the PC and the Internet by thousands of illiterate children, all without any direction or supervision from adults, delivered a body blow to long-held beliefs about what children can and cannot do on their own, along with unanticipated evidence about the high intelligence and capacity of illiterate children to acquire substantial computer skills and other knowledge without the help of teachers.

The experiment became a sensation. The World Bank president and other dignitaries personally made pilgrimages to Delhi to see it. Media hype started to build up. Soon the experiment was replicated in scores of other urban public spaces and villages around India and in a number of other countries like South Africa. They all delivered the same message: children have an uncanny ability and drive to learn to use the computer for learning, with or without the help of teachers.

This kind of learning has since been dubbed by Mitra as Minimally Invasive Education. The immense disparities existing in India’s school system and the magnitude of the challenge of educating the millions of India’s children takes on a less intimidating aspect in light of these new researches.

I highly recommend this long article (I don’t think it’s really a book) to anyone who has the slightest interest in how human beings learn. It was thrilling to see how much cooperation, sharing, discussion, and indeed courage arises spontaneously in places where we least expect it. This could well be one of the most significant books about education to appear in the last two or three generations. It is also a delightfully fun story to spend a night with.

Why Short Lessons Work in a Charlotte Mason Education

How many times, during a home schooling day, have you found yourself still trying to plug along to get every subject done, that you feel “has” to be done before you can end your school day? Before you know it, it is 3:30…4:00…5:00… And suddenly you realize that not only is your spouse on the way home, and supper is not done, but you never even remembered to get it out of the freezer, let alone start it?!

Plus added to this, your house has become an upheaval in the meantime, the laundry you started before school this morning is still waiting to be thrown in the dryer, or hung on the clothesline. Your kids are grouchy and just want to go outside to play. You have a headache and can’t wait to just sit and do absolutely nothing but stare at the television. But, in drives your spouse, honking cheerfully as he sees his children playing outside. He has had a long, hard, hectic day at the office, and he is so looking forward to a nice home cooked meal. He walks in, looks around, sees the upheaval of things and then has the nerve to ask, “So what’s for dinner?” At this point, all you can do is sit down and cry. Your husband is at a loss as to what is wrong, let alone what he can do, or should do, to help in your situation. To top it off, he is afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, no matter how carefully he tries to word things. Did ‘school’ get done today? Yes, it did. Thank God for that! But was it done cheerfully, with anticipation, looking forward to what tomorrow will bring? Sadly, your answer would have to be an emphatic “NO!”

Well there are specific reasons why Charlotte Mason felt strongly that it was imperative that children be given “short lessons” in a variety of subjects throughout each day. Not only is it a ENORMOUS help to the parent in not becoming overwhelmed, but it also helps you, the parent, to be able to maintain a calm, peaceful learning environment, giving you ample time to get your daily household necessities accomplished. However, ultimately, it is for the sake of your children.

Miss Mason has three simple, basic reasons for short lessons where children are concerned. Firstly, the idea that there is only so much time to get the math lesson done, or his reading finished, keeps the child’s comprehension levels fixed and alert. Secondly, your child has only so much of an attention span for any one subject that he can absorb, without going in to overload. And thirdly, your child gets through his morning routine without getting bored, tired or exasperated.

Now, what better reasons are there than these to continue to learn and follow more of Charlotte Mason’s wonderful, yet simple lessons, that can be used in our personal, every day lives? Go to Charlotte Mason Made Easy website to see more about simple and short lessons.

Navigating the Special Education Maze

As a school psychologist, as well as the mother of a child with a chronic health condition, I understand all too well the intimidation that accompanies entering the “bargaining” sessions of IEP meetings. There are ways, however, to stack the proverbial cards in your favor. Read on…

To begin with, be prepared for anything. Keep accurate documentation and note the dates and times that everything occurs. I am not exaggerating – EVERYTHING. Every phone call, every progress report, etc. Nothing is more intimidating to IEP teams than a parent who has prepared for their meeting. A parent with a Plan of their own is scary for us, because what if we look like idiots, or offend you? You have to come into meetings prepared for anything, almost as if you’re documenting for a Due Process hearing. You never know, you might have to “go there.”

Second, know your rights. Ask for a copy of your State’s Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE) for your review before you attend any meeting at all. You can find the PRISE for your State by entering a search on Google.

Third, know you are an active participant and that no one can force a program on you or your child. For example, some schools will hand you an IEP that they’ve already devised before you got there, with hopes that the meeting will go quickly and you will just sign and leave. But that is like going to an Italian restaurant and all that’s on the menu is spaghetti. Your child is unique and to truly devise an individualized plan, all of those involved should plan on spending at least one hour talking through the parts of the plan that are going to affect the child academically and socio-emotionally.

Know what you want before you go in there. Have a Mission in mind, know your goals, and outline your strategies before you even step foot in that room. For example, you will need goals for your child. Make sure you’ve broken them down to the smallest components before you ask for them – you will be surprised how much more you get out of your request.

I.e., Goal: I want my child to be able to get – and hold – a job when they graduate.

Well, that is plain, isn’t it? If you broke it down, however, you would have:

I want my child to learn:

How to respect authority;

How to type;

How to honor time commitments;

How to respectfully interact with peers;

Etc.

Now, doesn’t that look more like what you were thinking?

You may not get all of them, but you will get some – and that is way more specific than “get a job,” so there will be a bit more work required of your Team. Good.

Third, know you will run into snags. There will be red tape you will have to circumvent; you will meet people whose goal it is to keep children from receiving services (yes, after all of those years of education, you would think we’re all in this for the children. Yet some of our colleagues are actually naysayers); you will hear all about how “this is not how we operate” when you present documentation proving otherwise; etc. You will certainly learn a lesson in frustration tolerance.

If you are lucky, you won’t have to deal with any of the above. But I doubt it.

Fourth, learn from the negatives and appreciate the positives. You will also learn some positive things, such as knowing when to give up. By this I don’t mean walking out on your plan, but knowing when to compromise.

Fifth, know your child is entitled to individuality. If you look at evaluations, they might all seem the same. You don’t want your child’s IEP to be just like everyone else’s, or they will be ignored. Trust me on this one. I have seen 1,000’s of IEPs and rarely does the school hold itself responsible for child failure. It is always “Johnny X” or “Johnny’s mom Y.” Make sure your child’s IEP delineates what has NOT been done for him – not just what has been.

“You just want us to fix what you’ve done wrong.”

Did that statement infuriate you? It is what most school staff thinks when you demand fair treatment.

My advice? Listen more than you speak and ask very specific questions – questions that merit elaboration on the part of your Team. Most of all, remain respectful. No one likes a bully, or someone who blames everything on everyone else.

Oh, and smile graciously as you lay your tape recorder on the conference table… 😉

Diversity in Education and Curriculum Concepts – Book Review

Are you interested in a future in teaching, education administration, or becoming a social worker, or school psychologist, then there is a book, which I’d like to recommend that your read, and then I’d like to give you a more than fair assessment of this work.

“Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society,” by Donna M. Gollnick and Philip C. Chinn, Pearson Merrill a Prentice Hall Company, Upper Saddle River, NJ, (2006), pp. 404, ISBN: 0-13-119719-3.

This book was quite interesting to me, and its first publishing was in 1983 and it has been upgraded and republished every few years since. I felt as if the book was very hard to use because it has the Preface prior to the table of contents, which makes navigating very tough. The preface is quite good and explains how the book is formatted.

Once into the book it is very easy to follow along, even the most blithering idiot could use this book and understand it, perhaps, that is their target reader; at least this is the impression I got, and speaking of impression, I believe this book is trying to brainwash the “education student” who has an impressionable mind, this is my opinion based on reading it.

Indeed, as a coordinator for a think tank online I was really worried that such books are indeed being used to train and teach new teachers and college professionals, and students who will go into the educational profession as administrators, professors, psychologists, etc. There are chapters on social classes, race, homosexuality, diversity, gender, religion, and age. There are sub-chapters such as; Hate Groups

Racial Identification

Bullying

Self Esteem

Sexual Harassment

Anyway, you get the idea of what this wonderful book is all about, unfortunately after reading through it all, I decided I really didn’t have room on my many book shelves for it. And I chose not to donate it to a Thrift Store, and I failed to put it into the recycle bin – it has gone straight into the trash. But, I think this is a great book for a neo-liberal-socialist. And I recommend that you read this book so you can understand how all this political correctness has permeated in our society and how it started in academia.

This book also had everything reiterated and duplicated on a CD ROM with videos, and roll-playing on each chapter. I suppose this is for those in academia who cannot read well, and yet, might still be teaching our children and kids. Look, anyone who is serious about teaching needs to understand how it all works, and what it’s all about, even if you disagree with every single aspect of it. This is why I read the book, and duly discharged to where I believe it belongs. Please consider this.

Investing in Your Child’s Education – It’s Cheaper Than You Think

Investing in your child’s education doesn’t always mean starting a college tuition fund or opening a CD in the name of your 10- year-old in hopes it will multiply before they get their college acceptance letter. There are ways other than financial help that may be more beneficial for your child’s education and they will not break your bank account. The following five suggestions may very well give a higher return on your child’s educational investment, especially if they are established early in his education career:

First: Homework. There are varying opinions among teachers regarding how much and what type of homework to provide. However, most teachers do agree that when a parent is involved in some way in the completion of a student’s homework, that student has a greater chance of success. Whether or not a child has someone help with their homework each night is a huge indication of whether they will understand the material. The fact is simple: even the best teachers must teach an entire group of students at a time while a parent can work one-on-one with the child. This is a very important factor. Teachers will jump through hoops just to arrange a few minutes a day to teach a smaller group of students. Student learning increases dramatically when teachers have a smaller number of students, therefore, the more one on one time that you have with your child at home, the more your child will learn. Every minute you can take to read or practice or review with them one-on-one will do wonders for their education.

Second: Respecting and Supporting your child’s teacher.. When I was growing up parents and teachers were on the same page. Somehow this has changed where the student and the parents are often opposing the teacher. This has horrible repercussions for the child’s ability to learn. Working together always works better than working individually. If a parent slips a word of disrespect or disapproval at the dinner table the night before, a student is far more likely to discredit much of what the teacher says the following day. By openly showing that you don’t support the teacher’s decisions you are teaching your child that it is fine for them to do the same thing in the classroom. If a student does not respect his or her teacher learning becomes far more difficult.

Third: Use technology wisely. Technology plays an increasingly important role in education today. However, it can also be a huge distraction. Set priorities and rules for technology in your home. This may seem like common sense but common sense is not always so commonly realized, and technology is having a negative effect on the education of many students. For example, spending hours and hours on a gaming system before starting homework late at night makes homework much less effective. Children are less engaged in homework and the completion of it becomes a battle with parents as opposed to a learning routine that is established early in the evening. On the positive side, teach your child how to use technology to enrich and improve their learning by using online resources and materials.

Fourth: Get involved in the classroom. This tip is mostly directed towards parents of elementary-aged children. Many teachers appreciate parent volunteers. Time spent in your child’s classroom is invaluable! It will help you better understand events and situations that occur in your child’s classroom and life. It will help you understand different procedures and systems in the environment where they spend most of their day so that you can better help them with any problems that arise socially or academically. It also helps show your child that you value their learning and take time when you can to support them and their teacher.

Fifth: Communicate with the teacher. This is an under-utilized tool in education. Parents and teachers are both working for the same goal to help the same child learn. Communication is essential! Teachers could use your advice about how to help your child when they are struggling with something going on at home. Similarly, parents could use a teachers help when students are struggling academically. When parents and teachers work as a team the child can feel the network of support around him or her and both adults’ workloads are lightened. When you communicate a teacher knows you are involved and appreciate and respect the work they do for your child. They will include you on more information when they know you are interested. Communication is essential for parents and teachers to work as a team to help the child succeed.

If you can establish these five basic principles in your child’s experience early, then their chances of a higher education will increase significantly before they even start thinking of college. No matter how large a child’s college fund may be, if they do not have a foundation of respect and value for education, it will be much harder for them to succeed.