Jan 162013

The “Exchange EveryDay” message below is a quote from my article, “Beyond Remote Control Teaching and Learning: The Special Challenges of Helping Children Construct Knowledge Today,” which was published in Exchange Magazine (May/June 2011).  I wrote the article because of my deep concern over the extreme misfit I am seeing between so many of the early childhood school reforms currently underway and who the young children of today really are.

That is, as young children are controlled more and more by media and technology—what I call “Remote Controlled-Childhood”—they have a hard time constructing knowledge through the process described in the quote below.  But instead of giving children what they need, today’s education policy makers are responding by mandating remote-controlled approaches to teaching and learning—rote teaching of easily testable isolated facts.

What remote-controlled young children really need is help becoming deeply engaged in the creative learning process described below so they become life-long learners and problem solvers.  And all of us who care about promoting the wellbeing of young children can take an active role in working to create early childhood programs that do this.  If you would like to become involved in doing this, go to the website of Defending the Early Years, a new organization I helped found to advocate for appropriate early education practices for today’s children [www.deyproject.org].

“This process of constructing knowledge — having an experience that creates a problem, working to figure it out or solve the problem, and then ‘playing’ with what was ‘invented’ to solve the problem” — is at the heart of what Jean Piaget (1973) talks about in his important book, To Understand Is to Invent. He describes ‘invention’ as ” the process by which children construct new knowledge and understanding and advance intellectually.” And he argues that play is essential to this invention process: children bring their new inventions to their play, see how they work, and adapt them as they encounter new problems by coming up with new inventions that solve the problem….

“So often today it is as if children are being remote controlled by the scripts of others [television, videos, electronic toys], instead of coming up with their own unique stories and problems to solve. [Remote-control childhood] is exactly the opposite of [a child’s] play, where he worked out a unique problem in a unique way, and learned how to have wonderful ideas that furthered both his development and the sense of satisfaction that can come from working things out on his own. Remote-control childhood] undermines children’s ability to come up with wonderful ideas of their own creation and, instead, promotes the rote learning that is a carbon copy of the script creators.” – Exchange EveryDay of January 7, 2013