Organizing Chaos: Why Structure is Needed

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Have you ever tried to learn something when you had absolutely no experience and no background in it? Last year, I tried to learn how to play the violin, and although I had strummed a guitar a few times, and took the required music classes in middle school, I was really bad at it. (So bad that my neighbors in my tiny NYC apartment began to complain.) And, if it weren’t for my once-a-week lessons, I would’ve had no idea where to start.

I thought about this again, as I decided this year that I want to learn to code. I had NO idea where to start. Until, of course I found Code Academy. But, I haven’t even looked at Code Academy in 3 weeks, and I really have no incentive to go back to it.

Now, I know a lot of people are like me, and a lot of people aren’t. The fact of the matter is that most adults have already developed the abstract and complex thinking in their physical development to learn things on their own. They don’t NEED teachers to teach them to play violin or learn to code, but they may WANT the extra incentive that face time and human interaction provide.

What many people fail to understand, however, is that children are NOT this way.

If you follow children’s cognitive development, you’ll understand that they do not begin to have serious abstract thinking until around the age of 10. (If you’re a teacher, you’ve already witnessed this.) This stage is called the “The Concrete Operational Stage,” and as one author from the tagged site notes, it is a “period between ages seven and eleven during which children gain a better understanding of mental operations. Children begin thinking logically about concrete events, but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts.” From experience, I can tell you that the vast majority of young children are not self-motivated to build the educational foundation needed to critically think or even socialize; they need structure, and they need teachers to help them.

Basically, until age 10-11, children need a lot of structure to learn. This means that they need to soak in gobs of academic basics AND social basics to be critical thinkers as adults or even, as teenagers.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how MPrep is going to help kids who are self-motivated to learn, how it will help those taking alternative academic routes. My answer: “We need to give our kids a solid foundation first, especially kids in Kenya lacking basic skills. This doesn’t mean it needs to be boring; but it does mean that they need academic and social structure while they are young.” MPrep is particularly focused on primary grades because of this, and we are even finding ways to think beyond just formative assessments… We want literacy tools and language tools too.

But, how do I think is the best way to teach kids the foundations, to organize the chaos in their heads? Well, naturally, through the classroom. I’m not talking about the daunting, fearful, and rigid classroom meant to churn otr productive capitalist workers, like public education was meant to do in the US in the early 1900s, (and beyond) or even like many educational systems do now…

I’m talking about real, human, loving interaction of a classroom, where kids are learning the basics and learning how to act in an ever-dynamic and in poverty-stricken areas, ever-painful society.

The school I used to teach at Harlem Village Academy Leadership, was talked about several times in Seth Godin’s recent Education Manifesto, “Stop Stealing Dreams.” This is what he said about it:

“This isn’t a factory designed to churn out education at the highest speed for the lowest cost. No, this is handmade education. Teachers don’t teach to the test. Teachers don’t even teach to the pre-approved standardized curriculum. At HVA, teachers who care teach students who care.


Is it any surprise that this is revolutionary?”

MPrep is never meant to replace the real, deep human interaction that is so desperately needed for our young students to organize chaos. It’s meant to help teachers get assessments done, give individual feedback to students, and give teachers more time to think, to plan, and to organize for that real human interaction needed in a classroom. I suppose this is what Vinod Khosla was meaning to write about in his article a bit back.

Technology can help us build structure. It can give us more time for the learning process that we cherish so much with our students. It helps us help kids organize chaos in their cute little brains so that they can become innovative and thoughtful adolescents and eventually, adults.

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