The Adult-Free School?

No doubt you’ve seen the intriguing story making its way around the Internet today about the Ethiopian kids who hacked the free laptops they were given in less than six months – and without any adult instruction.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great story, and it’s illustrative of the extent to which we underestimate the abilities of young people. But we’re missing the point if we think the moral is that adults just need to disappear in order for young people to optimally learn and grow.

Some of what adults do needs to disappear — overly structuring what and how we learn, worrying more about what gets poured in instead of what gets pulled out, and thinking that content knowledge is the ultimate end goal. But the adults themselves need to stay — and they need to stay so they can mentor, and prompt, and challenge, and guide, and nurture, and support.

As Paulo Freire said, there’s a big difference between being authoritarian, which shuts down the learning process, and being authoritative, which allows the learning process to thrive. As in all things, the art lies in the balance of it all. So it’s great that these kids figured it out on their own — and it would have been a helluva lot cooler, and progressed a helluva lot faster, if they’d had some caring, skilled guidance along the way.

Categories: Learning

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