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As long as policy makers continue to measure “success” solely in terms of test scores, which do NOT measure authentic learning, and to devote all of their efforts to “improve” those scores, the genius in each child will never be liberated. It always amazes me that educators rave about what their students do when “released” to learn what and how they want…for an hour. What might they do if 80+% of their time were spent pursuing their own passions and interests? The way to truly tell students they matter is to stop insisting that there is a body of knowledge that ALL children must know and be able to do BEFORE they are free to pursue their passions. This is what imprisons the innate genius in every child. Children are pulled away from the self-directed learning they’ve done before they are confined to schools and stripped of their right and responsibility to direct their own learning. Why are we surprised when, by 5th grade, many of them hate learning…and school?

There is a growing movement toward learner-centered learning environments, some of which give students total control of their learning from day one. Do they all learn the same things? No! But why should they? (I’m not talking about basic literacy and numeracy, which children automatically learn when they feel the need and see a purpose to learn them.) The belief that the earlier a child learns to read, the smarter they are, is a dangerous and damaging myth!

These aren’t touchy-feely ideas. They are supported by solid research and years of data about what happens to self-directed learners when they “graduate.” Not only do many of these learners choose to attend college, but 80+% of them complete college — far greater than the 50% of traditional students who complete a college degree. And those who don’t choose college are equally successful in whatever profession they choose to follow — from artist to dancer to entrepreneur to writer to social change agent.

When students in learner-centered schools do take standardized tests…just for fun…they typically score 2–3 grade levels higher than their public school counterparts. Why? Because they are proficient in analysis and deeper thinking rather than memorizing the facts needed to score well on a bubble test.

While anything we can do to give children the freedom to learn in authentic ways is to be commended, there is so much more to be done. Deprogramming adults from their belief that learning requires teaching is a huge first step.