Seat-time is a unit of measurement used in traditional schools, which is, frequently, the determining factor, along with grades from standardized tests, for passing and failing a subject or grade level. I will argue that sitting in a seat (or, a classroom) for the required number of days or hours, along with memorizing facts long enough to pass a test (both set by state regulations) has absolutely nothing to do with learning, but everything to do with control.
I see many disturbing issues that can (and should) be raised about these policies. The first of which addresses the thousands of ways real people learn. There are several recognized models and theories of learning styles, the common denominator among them all is that everyone is completely unique and each of us has one or two dominant styles, but may utilize several to gain information. Very few, if any, of us acquire knowledge passively, by sitting and listening to a lecture. Many of us need to be actively engaged. We require a stimulating environment where learning is a dynamic experience not a spectator sport, and, where we feel comfortable enough to seek out answers on our own by getting involved - exploring, touching, tasting, smelling, and, in short, getting messy. However, within most classroom settings, if a child is doodling, fidgeting, staring off into space, bouncing in their chair, shuffling their feet, or even, asking questions they are accused of not listening (obeying) and are frequently punished.
Traditional education speaks superficially to differing learning styles by developing “multi-modality” pedagogy where lesson plans include the use of several learning methods. Yes, those lesson plans may have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components; however, they, for the most part, are not addressing individuality, and are not derived from the student’s questions, interests, or ideas. They, simply, are another way to conform to the rules set forth by people (bureaucrats) who do not understand what real learning is.
Secondly, our educational system was developed, during the Industrial revolution, from the need for compliant workers who had enough basic understanding of math, reading, and writing (the three Rs) to be productive in the factories.
We no longer need an obedient, subservient population who can sit still in a classroom and score satisfactorily on tests, walk in a straight line down a hallway, take their hat off upon entering a building, or, for that matter, ask permission to eat, or even, empty their bladder. Those factory jobs are, mostly, a thing of the past. Our educational system, however, has changed very little. At this moment, more than any other time, our world requires innovative, critical and forward-thinking people who are not afraid to shake up the status quo. Quite possibly the most problematic abstraction in this entire conversation is that we expect our kids to understand the concept of consent, but yet on the most basic level, they are not given the opportunity to agree to what they are going to do with the majority of their time between the age of five and eighteen. It is vital for our mental health to have the opportunity and ability to say, yes or no, to every single detail in our lives. I think we would all agree that it is a direct violation anytime we are forced to do something (anything) that we don’t want to do. Yet, we don’t often think of compulsory education as non-consensual - a form of coercion. You will be in direct violation of US law, and, in most cases, will be reported to Child Protective Services, if your child does not attend school (or register to homeschool). Most kids, therefore, are not given the option to do anything else, but attend school. No one asks them what they are most interested in or what they would like to do with their days, it is simply implied that attending school is the only alternative. Joel Hammond, the co-founder of Princeton Learning Cooperative (a member of the Liberated Learner Network), referencing Blake Boles theory of educational consent, states it best at about minute 4 in his recent TedX Talk. Sit still and listen – is no longer a feasible educational method. Not only does it not work for most children’s learning styles or for the future economic viability of this nation, it has produced a population of students who are going into the world labeled with some form of oppositional or attention disorder. Many of these kids don’t have an affliction! They are, quite simply, perfectly normal, uniquely human individuals who are intent on discovering the joy of learning, outside the confined, controlled, and coercive system.
Photo Credits: Alicia D - taken on Friday's excursion to the Nicandri Nature Center in Massena