“Human tutors—teachers who work closely with students, one on one—are unrivaled in their ability to promote deep and lasting learning.” Anne Murphy Paul
Isn’t that fascinating? It seems to make a good case for homeschooling! But it also points to the importance of relationship. One of the most important aspects of nurturing joyful readers is the act of sitting cuddled up with a loved one and sharing a story. Mem Fox, an Australian children’s book writer and literacy specialist, is a huge proponent of the “just read” and “read joyfully” camp. But the reason it works is because it feels so good, so much that kids just want more.
The opening quote came from a very interesting blog post about the role of research and technology in developing educational strategies and tools. Ultimately, they are finding that human relationship is hugely important in learning, leading developers to attempt to create digital programs that can mimic that relationship and elicit those same good feelings. Check out The Feeling of Learning for more.
My friend Jan, who is a sought-after tutor in NYC, and I talk all the time about education and our work, and she often exclaims that what she does a lot more of than “teaching” is listening. She says she often feels like more of a therapist than an educator. This is significant, because the emotional life of a person—in this case, a young person—dictates their ability to learn. And I think she is such a successful tutor because she gives children what they need emotionally in order to succeed educationally.
I think there is a lot of hubris in the idea that we can mimic that relationship artificially. I am happy that the emotional component of learning is being acknowledged, but I don’t think it can be recreated in a real way. Human relationships are complex in a way that we cannot know fully. How we look at each other, sit with each other, the intonation in our voices and our intentions—it is a dance we unconsciously do with each other that contributes to the totality of interacting.
At the same time, I wonder if our fascination with technology is allowing us to lose our connection with each other. Are we really paying attention to each other anymore in a connected way? We have become so used to distracting ourselves. My son knows by the tone of my voice if I am thinking about something else when he talks to me. My “uh huh” is distracted, and he will start to speak nonsense to test me. I have to pull myself out of my other focuses to really pay attention to him. We are so used to responding and not really listening. And people know this. Kids know this.
Do the children that Jan works with need her attention because they are not getting it in any of their other relationships? If I, as someone who is conscious about this, still find myself having to work to pay real attention, what about the kids whose families are not aware of the detrimental effects of not paying attention, as if they are not important enough to pay attention to? Or where the only type of attention is to “teach” or “correct” rather than listen? Listening is powerful—true listening. It benefits the person being listened to, as well as the listener. Love and attention are vital to our growth and our learning. And I worry that by focusing too much on trying to simulate this relationship with technology, we are losing the very essence of that relationship with one another.