The biggest fib ever told in education

At OuiCommunicate, we teach French. I could say we are halfway between traditionalist and forward-thinking. We are traditionalist in that we like to seek inspiration in age-old wisdom, and forward thinking because we believe in the unlimited capacity of the human mind and use technology when it can best serve progress.

The principles behind our French business and our teaching often requires a bit of explaining. The common sense we base our teaching upon has been forgotten by many, largely due to the influence of formal schooling such as State schools and colleges.

In such institutions, the act of “learning” has come to mean many things that all blend together in one blurry definition. We associate learning with a certain type of brick building, a certain type of certified professional, a blackboard, a system of exams, a score at the exam and a little paper at the end called a diploma that tells the rest of society what we can or cannot do.

It is understood that a kid who clocks in and out of high school every day is in a state of learning and development. The assumption is that last week, the kid knew less than they do this week and that 2 years from now they will know much more than they do now. The same goes for colleges and universities. Even though we know that this isn’t factually true, there is a suspension of disbelief that allows education to go on its merry way as it always has.

This learning tradition has even become the one we measure all others by and automatically claims the top spot in terms of prestige. If we attend a high school in a rich country, we probably think of ourselves as worthwhile learners. And if we earned ourselves a degree in a college, we think of ourselves even more highly as a capable learner.

Until we take a language course and it all flies through the window. Bang!

We then realize that we have little self-discipline, that we have been conditioned to open wide our mouths to receive the knowledge with a spoon, that we expect a certain time frame within the academic calendar, that we are shy towards new knowledge, that we believe our role in the learning process is to sit back and receive, that we cannot make the decision to work alone and don’t know if we have the RIGHT to work alone. We are that bird looking through the open cage not quite sure how to process the freedom that lies beyond.

Worse still, we don’t even know how learning works.

Yes, I will repeat that: we don’t know how learning works. We think that learning has to be spread-out over 10 calendar months equivalent to a “grade” – even though we have no idea how the contents of the grades were decided or if they even relate to anything.

We think that learning is challenging because school takes 12 years to finish and college 5 or 6 years. We subconsciously equate the years with the difficulty and come to believe that we are less able than we really are. But what if a calendar year was 6 months long? Would high school take 24 years to finish? Would classes last for 20 minutes if an hour was 3 times shorter?

What if I told you I could teach you all about Plato in 2 weeks? Would you believe me or would you think it is a lie? Would you put it up against what you know of education and work out that by comparison there’s no way you could learn so fast?

On this very website, OuiCommunicate offers all the French a person could ever need. It’s so simple, it’s brilliant. At any time of day or night, just complete a PDF with the exercises and watch a video. Each time you do this, you gain a new skill. When you’ve done that enough times, there will be no more skills to learn and you will know French at a high level.

This idea seems reasonable and not too foreign from our common understanding of learning. So why is it that only the smallest percentage of students ever use it? This shortcut to French is so underused that students still prefer to ask the teacher in person to open a PDF for them and to take them through the document even though it takes much longer to do.

If at least the student had benefited much more at the end of such a session. But it is not even the case because the knowledge just went in at a smaller percentage of its full potential.

These students would have understood much better by doing it alone and asking questions to their teacher at a later stage. But they never do and the reason is that they have been conditioned to believe that a teacher is always present at the moment of learning. They’ve also been conditioned to believe that the teacher (or institution) controls the timeline and that a student does NOT study faster than the rest of the class. A student is passive until they are told to work.

Some detractors to my views might call in different motives such as a busy life outside of French classes. Perhaps. But then why didn’t your school teach you to focus more? Who taught you it was alright to be all over the place?

We might blame the desire to take it easy and take French as a hobby. Good. But who told you that doing things casually ever led to anything?

We might say that a student is afraid of learning “wrong” and making a mistake. But who told you that mistakes were wrong and that you had to perform by producing flawless quality all the time? Do you think it is always wrong to make a mistake, or can some mistakes teach us also?

In all of this, the biggest fib of all is the act of removing the free will of a learner and their sense of emancipation. There is no conspiracy behind this, but there is an assimilation made by the student through 12 years of high school. If all your life, you’ve only seen cars go at a certain slow speed, you will not assume that it is abnormal and that they should be going twice that speed. It takes a lot to remove ourselves from our present state and see society as it actually works.

If you believe I have it in for education, it is not the case. Many of our assumptions and beliefs were taught to us in ways that are not always clear. For example, we can ask yourselves what we view as “romantic” but most importantly, how we came to this idea. Was it the films we saw, the books we read, something someone said?

Perhaps the biggest fib that is diminishing human potential is the removal of self from the learning space. As if learning was synonymous with pouring knowledge down someone’s mouth, like a glass of water. This may well be the definition of “teaching” but it is not the definition of “learning”. Knowledge is not like electricity, it does not move from sender to receiver. For the receiver to gain knowledge, they must be busy. The more they get busy alone, the more they will learn.

Learning French can be an enjoyable and fast process but students must dare claim what is theirs. It is their natural given right to learn, it is their right to make mistakes and it is their right to learn at any time they wish.

Students and adults alike need to see reality differently. Don’t assume the process is going to be long just because high school is measured in years. Don’t assume that no learning can be done without the teacher present. Don’t carry with you the belief that a mistake is a shame to be avoided.

Instead, see the potential. Make the crazy decision to study all the French tenses within a month. Make the decision that a year is too long to know French. Blast through the time frame.

You can make it happen and you can learn French quicker in 6 months than in 4 years of high school.

Let’s do this !

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