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  • Writer's pictureCassie Janisch

NURTURING NATURAL LEARNING


The Human Learning Principle: Every person continuously self-constructs their own unique meaning from all that they subjectively experience, both consciously and unconsciously.


Once we acknowledge that the Human Learning Principle is the fundamental driver of all human learning behaviour, we have to agree that most of what we call “education” on planet earth is hopelessly ill-conceived and extremely limited. Most education curricula have been created under the assumption that learning is predictable and measurable, yet in fact all that educators do is ignore all of the learning that they have not predicted or decided to measure. This could be a new Zen Koan for education: “If it is not the learning they predicted, and it cannot be measured according to the methodology defined by the curriculum, is it learning at all?”


What we have been seeing over the last two decades is more and more children failing to thrive in mainstream education environments. Out of fear-of-the-undefined, or fear-of-the-unmeasurable, we discount all of the signs that a multitude of other forms of learning are happening, and we double-down on the same-old-same-old curricula and ways of measuring learning as before. Despite the technological revolution that has happened on planet earth over the last 30 years, children are still being given much the same content to “learn” in much the same ways as 30 years ago. Yes, some of us now use computers and have tweaked the delivery in some instances to make it more modern and appealing, but most schooling still involves the same curricula, subjects, content, textbooks and worksheets as it did decades ago. Most parents who approach me when considering Misty Meadows School for their children, still want the assurance that we will cover all the same bases as “the mainstream”, as if this is the benchmark for what is non-negotiable in education and everything else is really just a nice-to-have.


And yet, if every single child is continuously self-constructing their own unique meaning from all that they subjectively experience, both consciously and unconsciously, is there any wonder that children are bored by this traditional approach to education? Especially now, when a whole universe of potential learning exists at the touch of a button on your hand-held device. I often think about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books: When her family travelled west, they were in possession of only one book, from which the children learned to read, and over which they poured their attention endlessly for years. Going to school in those days was certainly a good way to access broader information and learning than what they had access to at home, but can the same be said today?


If we agree that today’s children have far better access to a far wider range of information and ways of knowing things than ever before, where should education actually be focused? Not on the same-old-same-old, that is for sure! Rethinking education is certainly a buzz-phrase and lots of tweaks and add-ons are underway globally, but still we are largely wedded to the one-size-fits-all mentality and delivery system of old.


In a class of 25 children can you even conceive of how many different meanings are in the process of being self-constructed at any one moment? And yet many of those children are made to feel less-than, or stupid, if they have not constructed the meaning defined by the curriculum, and passed a test to prove it.


Our top-down hierarchical education system that puts government policy at the top, then the administrators of that policy, then only the school, starting with the principal, then the teacher and finally the poor child as receiver-of-learning-defined-by-someone-else at the bottom of the pyramid is clearly a very ill-conceived design for delivering curiosity catalysts to children with which they can make meaning for themselves, isn’t it?


If we agree that all children everywhere are always self-constructing meaning from all they experience, then surely our task as educators is not to limit the meaning they construct to a few boring curriculum-standards defined by others? Imagine how we limit the construction of meaning by putting children into the same uniforms, sitting in standardised rows, consuming standardised materials at the same rate, from the same person all the time? This is like keeping animals caged in tiny zoo enclosures that are a very poor replica of the natural environments they originally came from. Actually, its worse, because schoolchildren are kept inside, completely separate from all the meaning-making catalysts in the natural world. I would argue that many schools are one-dimensional grey prisons that keep children from the meaning-making they are actually capable of.


Having said that, many children do not live in perfect home environments, or have access to a wide and varied range of curiosity catalysts in their home lives. I would argue that there is definitely a role for schools in society to provide children with a wider range of catalysts that enable meaning-making (learning) than they have access to at home. What are potential learning catalysts? My list would include:

· Other people of all ages, races, genders, cultures…

· Mother nature…

· The Internet…

· Books…

· Games of all sorts (online, board, physical)…

· Experts in different subjects and with different skills (academic, practical, artistic, creative, self-mastery, conflict resolution, etcetera)…

· Physical activities…

· Teamwork activities…

· Meditation…

· Discussion groups…

· Debates…

· Down time for contemplation…

· Movies and documentaries…

· Art supplies and other creative catalysts…

· Workshop materials for making, building and doing things…

· Lots of play time…

· … and I’m sure a lot more if I spent more time thinking about it.


What if the only mandate of a school was to nurture natural learning? Imagine all the unscripted forms of learning and knowing that could potentially emerge? Imagine all the potential Einsteins making as-yet-unanticipated connections across all the things they are exploring and thus innovating new ways of living, being and doing that could change our world for the better?


Yes, there is the fear that nobody would learn any of the “important stuff” like reading, writing and maths. It amazes me how many parents do not trust their children to master these simple things in the course of constructing meaning for themselves. Is it because the parents do not trust their selves, or feel somehow inadequate in themselves? Were they possibly traumatised by their own schooling to believe that they were stupid? What is true intelligence anyway? I would argue that true intelligence is the ability to effectively self-construct your own unique meaning from all that you experience, and to master yourself sufficiently to turn this meaning into a fulfilling purpose and direction for your life (including acting on your knowing). Having worked with children for over a decade I have yet to meet a child who is not capable of doing that for him or herself.


It is way past time for us to let go of the education dinosaurs of the past and start exploring new ways to support and enable learning in all of its infinitely creative forms. Misty Meadows School is my own journey towards this. I have had to develop a very thick skin against all those who have not understood my “why” for the last decade. I have tried to explain my thinking and experience to people for years, but realise that many people cannot yet see what I see because of the spectacles they are looking through. They are looking for what they expect to be there, and noticing what is not there, rather than recognising the value of something new - an approach that lets go of the known, predictable approach and allows new ways of knowing to emerge.


My only purpose with Misty Meadows is to provide a rich and diverse learning ecosystem that nurtures natural learning in all it forms. Yes, some of what we do here looks like traditional school – children do learn how to read, write and do maths, just not all at the same time and in exactly the same way. And they learn and explore so many other things that traditional learning environments would not even recognise as learning at all.


My purpose is to support and enable all the children in our ecosystem to reach their full potential as their own unique self (KNOW THYSELF and KNOW HOW TO BE YOURSELF). When I look at Misty Meadows through this lens, I KNOW that I am on the right track here. I received a message from the uncle of one of our school children after he had watched the Misty kids at his niece’s birthday party. He said: “the kids yesterday showed calm cohesion – moving like a flock of starlings”. I love the metaphor of a murmuration of starlings to describe children who are in harmony with each other exploring the world separately, yet as a unified whole of collective intelligence that is so much greater than the individuals alone. I love seeing children growing together, feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm, learning from each other as much as from the environment in which they live and the experts who supposedly “teach” them, and I love bearing witness to the infinite diversity that emerges in an ecosystem that nurtures natural learning, as defined by my Human Learning Principle.


This blog is where I will continue to share my thoughts and experience of nurturing and enabling natural learning. My next blog will be about why staying out of judgement of what learning should look like is a worthwhile practice.






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