How We Learn When We Are Young

December 4, 2015

How We Learn When We Are Young

by Haley Zilberberg (Intern)

When I was in ninth grade, I had a really great English teacher. At some point during the school year, she gave us a test. The test had really small boxes for our answers. The entire class struggled to fit the answers in the boxes. When we turned in the tests, she asked why no one had written outside of the box. There had been a lot of room on the margins outside of the box, and she had never told us that we had to write just in the box. But most of the students in my class saw this box, and saw it as a limit. They literally stayed inside the box.

In the college program I am enrolled in, there are often no “boxes”. I have few tests and many, many papers, which is something most students hate. But I love it. I can constantly voice my opinions and learn through making decisions on my point of view.

One of the tests I had this semester was a test that had some open-ended question and some multiple choice. My professor had a multiple choice question with options a, b, c, and d. It said to choose one answer. I was really frustrated with the question because none of the answers was adequate in my opinion. I told my professor and she told me to circle whatever answers I thought could apply and write why. And for some reason, this made me so incredibly happy.

When children are growing up, in my experience, there are way too many “boxes” and too little room for exploration, questioning, and expression. Children are praised for sitting in their seats, for answering things how they are taught to, and for being quiet. But if we let young people voice what they had to say, I’m sure we would learn just as much as they learn from adults.

Being a writer, I have the opportunity to say everything I want to in whatever form or manner I want to. Even when I am given a prompt or a specific way in which to write something, in my experience, art is a field in which people are commended on changing things up.

In elementary school, I submitted a poem for an essay contest and ended up winning. In middle school, I entered an essay contest that had strict guidelines to write in “FCAT” style (one opening paragraph, three middle, and one end—each paragraph with its own strict guidelines). Instead I submitted an essay I wrote completely neglecting the guidelines and ended up winning. Being praised for exploring alternate routes and completely ignoring the rules was something that shaped me into who I am today. Children should be taught to break the rules so that they can have their own thoughts and opinions.

By breaking the rules, I don’t mean stealing and vandalizing. I don’t mean being a class disruption. I mean that children should be allowed to explore their creativity and individuality. Everyone communicates their ideas and thoughts best in their own way. Everyone learns differently than the next person.

Young students in the recent years are being too limited. They don’t get as much recess or time exploring the arts in school. They get so much homework. They have to fill in literal boxes for standardized tests. They are often times taught a standardized curriculum in a specific instruction that teachers have no choice in.

Not every child will be good at everything. If twenty children were told to write a poem, a small fraction of them would probably actually enjoy it. But I think it is important to expose children to different things, to different forms of art and expression. I think when we are young, it is important to let children know the importance of having a voice and individuality.