Live and Learn-Why the disconnect?

Every day you live and hopefully learn; but why is there such a disconnect between learning perceptions and real learning?


Learning Test
Learning’s definition over the years has changed. The United States began formal education using the Prussian model in order for students to learn how to be obedient workers, adding standards in an attempt to define guidelines for learning, and morphing into the current testing of learning culture choosing arbitrary factual content and skills to prove consumption of learning.


None of these define real learning. 


As a classroom teacher, I sometimes tried to have my students write down what they learned for the day.  It was my attempt to demonstrate that if you’re paying attention,  you really can’t escape learning.  Whether it’s something intended as your focus like learning how to design and code a new kind of Enderman (my son’s morning self- assignment) or learning how to contrast the differences in types of triangles, you’re learning.


Unfortunately, when I’d ask students to write what they learned, I usually got those pat answers that most teachers love; but that drive me absolutely crazy. Statements like, “I learned how to multiply fractions”, or “I learned that a descriptive paragraph uses adjectives”. Learning has come to be defined as something “taught by an instructor” that I may or may not be able to do tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.


Those are the mindless regurgitations of textbook definitions. Most often, they aren’t what children really learned; just what a teacher wants to hear. Luckily for me, (after much prompting and persuasion) I’d also get answers like, “I learned that sitting by Drew when he’s in a bad mood keeps me from getting my work done”, or “When I have a basketball game at night, I need to start my homework earlier to be able to finish it”. While those statements may not include the learning target in math or science, they do demonstrate true reflection, contemplation, and learning. They are valuable insights that will improve future understanding.

Experiment Fail Learn Repeat

Lessons like those will be applicable in almost every area of life. While it’s great to hear, “I know how to multiply fractions” because it’s a goal achieved, outside of the classroom it had limited applicability. We all incorporate learning into our lives, but much of what we learn comes as a surprise. We stumbled onto it when we need it.


Some learning is delivered to us, but I’d venture to say, most of it we stumble onto out of necessity or to make our lives easier. We need to learn something, so we do- whether it’s exhilarating and engaging, or a laborious and repetitive process.


I find it interesting that most people can’t wait to graduate because they’ll finish formal schooling and often say,  “I won’t have to worry about learning anymore!” Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, you’ll probably be doing more real learning (unless you grow stagnant) and less passive memorization (unless you attend a lot of mindless meetings).


You also learn many seemingly inconsequential things every day like not to talk to your friend Cindy after 9 pm because you’ll be up too late at night and have trouble getting up in the morning, to put in laundry when you think of it (because you’ll get busy and forget later), and to leave your house early on certain days because of weekly schedule changes.  We have to think about these choices to make the decisions, but first we have to learn what works and what doesn’t. …pretty much on our own. This is the kind of learning that serves our well- being every day. It makes our life easier and more manageable; or it can really complicate matters when we don’t quickly learn our lessons. And, it doesn’t come with a book. There’s no manual on life. You learn as you go on the fly.


If you’re that person who’s always late or wakes up tired every morning,  chances are you haven’t learned those lessons yet.  Unlike school lessons, we’re doomed to repeat real life lessons until we find ways to reflect upon changes we could make and focus on learning how to improve. One of the biggest struggles for many children is that parents often short-change the learning. In the mind of a supportive parent, it’s called “helping”, but often we bail out our children to their detriment. Parents often postpone the lesson when they take care of things instead of handing the lesson over to their child.


Then there’s a much deeper kind of learning usually labeled as wisdom. It’s not something that you can set out to capture. It’s the part of my homeschooling day when my child looks up and says, “Wow. When I get started earlier, I can really get things done.” There’s an analysis going on in that mind. There’s some experimentation, but there are conclusions being drawn all on his own as I sit back and think, “He’s finally realizing.”  It’s a slow and gradual building of learning that you acquire through deep thinking and lots of reflection. It’s the part of learning that is the most precious, the most applicable, and the most highly valued; yet most people pass it by in deference to a drive-thru system of delivery learning. It’s like comparing a 10 course gourmet meal with a fast food hamburger. One takes time and savoring while the other is quick and bloating. Which do you usually do? Which kind of learning is the one we want for our children?


Learning never ends.

Change learning

What have you learned today?


Already today I learned that a seemingly “great” recipe for pancake- muffins just didn’t work for me. It was kind of like eating an apple that tastes like a peach. Weird.

Oh well, live and learn.

6 thoughts on “Live and Learn-Why the disconnect?

  1. I’d be interested in hearing more on what you thought the Common Core would bring to US Education Lisa, or have you already covered this in a post you could point me to? What you’ve mentioned here reminds me a little of some recent curriculum changes in the UK that focus on students ‘mastering’ topics before moving on. In the comments here – – I acknowledged the obvious turn towards the light but pointed out that teachers don’t start teaching with the aim of rushing students though content. The only reason that happened in the first place (and now needs correcting) is because of the original expectations/testing from the centre. P.S. In case you’re free, Nancy Baily (the US Education Activist I did this guest post for: is doing a Radio interview tomorrow: Sunday, May 17 at 2:00pm PST / 4:00pm Central/ 5:00pm Eastern. It’s called ‘THE WAR REPORT ON PUBLIC EDUCATION’ and she’ll be talking about “the trouble with testing and common core standards”… check it out if you can, I’m going to try and listen in!


    1. Leah, in a nutshell, I loved the CCSS for grades 3-5. I love the depth of understanding, the discovery method, and the connections that my students learned by really digging into understanding mathematics. I actually began implementing the standards back in 2009 prior to the standardization practices of CCSS that wrecked (in my opinion) the entire focus and intent. Take a good idea and throw in some government interference, take away autonomy and time, and you end up with another superficial reform that does more harm than good. The our state standards prior to CCSS were very restrictive, did not allow for much creativity, and were on a constant micromanaged timetable. Unfortunately, it seems that most people choose micromanagement and “security” instead of innovation, so I don’t see any positive changes happening in the future.


      1. Do you have those conversations with people where they say ‘No, because…’ forever, until they make their final stance, “Sure, it all sounds good, but it’ll never happen for, like, 50 years.” Do you? I’m betting you do. Whenever I hear this I’m saying, “Great! 50 years is fine. But it’ll never happen in even 100 if we’re not at least talking about it now.” Chin up Lisa, you’re doing good because you’re talking about this! 😀


      2. Actually, Leah, I’ve become one of those people. I think it hits during middle age (and for some earlier) that positive change doesn’t happen in stages. It’s radical or it’s not at all. I think education can change and will, but I don’t believe it will happen in public ed until it’s accepted elsewhere. It seems to be a long way off.


  2. Hey Lisa, I saw a documentary yesterday on “how to make my child clever” and in one of the scenes the presenter was in a school playground asking the children “what have you learnt today?” and the answers were just as you observe here: “Victorians!” and “Lots of Maths” and the presenter smiled and how much the kids were learning while I was sat thinking; but what does this mean?

    Students learn quickly to say what adults want them to hear, and adults often interpret that response in their own way. From the student perspective saying what the adults want them to hear makes sense because it’s taught implicitly in our school system that adults hold knowledge and pass it forward in packages… so students just name the package of knowledge we’ve ‘learnt’ because that has meaning to all adults, even this presenter they’ve never met. We do the same thing as adults with our qualifications and job titles… these things shut down conversations because the meanings are all implied.

    What if the students understood that everyone has learnt different things and when you learn something you have a chance to share it forwards, if you want? What if the students had said “Did you know that in the Victorian time X happened?” This is a story, stories are creative and invite people in. I’m excited for when story telling rather than label swapping becomes the norm in education.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like I would have enjoyed that documentary. I guess that was my initial interest in Common Core here in the states. The standards encourage explanations and while it seems redundant for many people, it really isn’t. As teachers (parents and classroom), we start to see through our children when they give us pat answers. My hope was for CC expectations to be embraced. My confusion as to why it’s not (disregarding the increase in testing that accompanies it), continues. Do people buck the explanation part because they believe every child who says he “learned” something really does, because they don’t want to be bothered, or because they really don’t understand the nuances of learning. It’s a sad situation.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s