Someone taught Steve Jobs how to use a hammer

How do we nurture the next Steve Jobs?

Wired Magazine ran an article in its November issue titled “How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses” that made a case for less instruction at schools and more individual discovery on the part of children.

This from the piece:

A new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.

The following is a response to the article by Ellen Galinsky, author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” and president of Families and Work Institute.

“Steve Jobs’ father gave him a hammer, but he also showed him how to use it properly.

Jobs remembered being impressed by his father’s focus on craftsmanship. “I thought my dad’s sense of design was pretty good,” he said, “because he knew how to build anything. If we needed a cabinet, he would build it. When he built our fence, he gave me a hammer so I could work with him.”

– “Steve Jobs,” by Walter Iaacson.

Debating whether it’s better to let children discover knowledge or teach them directly is the wrong debate to have. I come to this conclusion based on many years researching how children learn best. Indeed, children need to discover and they learn best when they are engaged in their own discovery. As MIT’s Laura Schulz has found in her research, explicit instruction can restrain exploration and discovery.

Children, however, don’t retain what they learned as well unless adults are there to help them build, analyze and synthesize their knowledge.

It should not be an either/or. A universal principle among people who study how children learn best and how they apply what they learn to new situations is that children need adults or others to extend their knowledge. For example, David Klahr and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon found that if children were just allowed to experiment on their own they could not pull out principles they needed to learn how to evaluate a good scientific experiment.

That said, even facilitated learning needs to be engaging and motivate children to discovery, not just cram knowledge, or rote learning, down their throats. Likewise, discovery without explanation can leave children floundering or drawing incorrect conclusions.

It’s all about the how – how we encourage children to make discoveries and how we provide information.”

This is a debate that’s gone on forever. It’s time to end it.

photo/image credit: Poi Beltrane/flickr