We spend a good deal of time ensuring that students learn what is known. In fact, we as a society are rather obsessed with it, testing students from the moment they enter our school system to check whether that information is getting into their heads. We do this because we believe that certain information is essential to turning those students into productive, functioning adults.
But there comes a point where we can be so adamant about that goal that we sacrifice allowing them to learn on their own. That kind of independent learning leads to strengths and abilities like discovery and critical thinking. A lack of those strengths and abilities has dire consequences, and not just on an individual level.
In America we idolize innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. It is a significant part of our national identity. We create. We invent. We set the course for the future. At least that has been the story up to this point. If we neglect teaching future generations how to discover and think critically, we will have a much different culture. We will have stagnancy, and societies do not exist in stagnancy. They fade away.
So how do you teach discovery? Provide time and space. Occupying every moment of students’ time with structured learning devours any opportunity to teach them how to apply on their own the knowledge they’re so busy acquiring.
Without a doubt, there are foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities that will help people be better contributors to society, but they are just that—foundational. That is, they are the foundation upon which we build something of substance. The objective of knowledge is not to pass a test. The objective of acquiring knowledge is personal growth and to use that knowledge in a way that allows us to contribute meaningfully to a society.
Discovery is by no means the exclusive domain of the young, but they are the pros. They are new to the world and therefore the world is new to them. They hunger for discovery, and left up to their own devices they are experts at it. And human beings can continue to discover throughout their entire lives, and be good at it, particularly if you did it with gusto when you were young. It makes for a fulfilling life. But suppressing discovery arrests proper development. We may expect people to think critically and discover in the workplace or as functioning adults, but that’s an unfair expectation if it’s been squashed out of them since they started learning.
To hinder or prohibit discovery in the young is a tragedy beyond measure. It is stealing the essence of what it means to be a human being. If we want a future where the world a better place, and we want our children to live happy, successful lives, it is imperative that we give students time to live.