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Aprendizaje de vuelta al mundo

desescolarizados March2018

digital publication
of Alternative

Otra iniciativa de
The first issue of the magazine tried to especially if you practice home-based education, but being
an educator is far beyond from focusing only on teaching.
bring you, who are responsible for
other's people education, a brief In this issue, you will find some ideas that will help you
introduction to an overview that will change the perspective about the educator as the person
help you to project what our children who teaches, to switch it instead to the educator as a
could find by the year 2030 or 2050, trainer of self-directed learners and eternal lovers who
build their knowledge.
when they reach their working age and
To begin to break paradigms, the interview with Professor
their time to take care of their familly. Sidney Strauss can give us a good shake on preconceived
models of teaching and learning.
Surely you noticed that in that issue we concentrated
information on digital education, robotics, programming, My wish to you is that from the new mental models we get,
Artificial Intelligence, Exponential Systems, Social we will be able to generate new strategies to meet,
Entrepreneurship, Creative Thinking, Design Thinking, understand and promote the passion for learning with
among other topics, which we know are expected to have which all human beings are born naturally. Our children
greater relevance in the future. could very much benefit from it.
You have in your hands a powerful new idea that has the
Now, as you may have noticed on the cover of this second potential to transform the next dynamic of knowledge. It is
issue, we will concentrate on the passion for learning. You, also in your hands to take advantage of them.
as an educator, may feel that you have absolute The future is self-directed and begins with you.
responsibility for the education of the people in your care,  Are we ready?


Q. - In the educational context, everyone  One version is that he immediately wrote an article in a
is interested in finding out about how the column he authored in Argentina’s La Nacion about children’s
teaching. The second version was that the conversation
brain learns, but you have concentrated
stayed with him and, after mulling it over, he understood its
your research on what some might think is significance and then wrote about it in a
the opposite aspect… how the brain publication of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Both
teaches. versions might be the case.
Either way, the idea of studying teaching, what he
sometimes calls the other side of the moon, struck him as an
S.S. - That idea, Mariana, was not mine. It was two
important idea.
Argentinians who thought of it: my good friend, Antonio
Antonio and I have remained good friends from that fateful
Battro, along with another good friend of mine, Mariano
meeting, and we have managed to be in touch by email and
Sigman. The idea was inspired by a conversation I had with
have also met over the years in Argentina,
Antonio a number of years ago. And that also connects
Antonio and me to Howard Gardner. I’ll digress a bit but it
I told Antonio that I was working on expanding work on
will all come together in the end. Or at least I hope so. I first
teaching to include many aspects of the cognitive sciences in
met Howard Gardner in 1976. He was a professor of
the hope that each branch would unveil aspects of the
education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and
mystery of teaching. Although I would like to take credit for
I was on sabbatical from Tel Aviv University at MIT. A
having the brain sciences included in studying teaching, it
number of years later, I don’t recall the year, Antonio and I,
was Antonio who suggested it.
who had never met before and didn’t even know about each
He took my idea about teaching as a natural cognitive ability
other, were invited with others for brunch on a beautiful
and moved it to the brain sciences. And he suggested that
summer Sunday at Howard’s and Ellen Winner’s, Howard's
we can think of teaching in terms of brain coupling where
wife. As is usual for brunches at Howard’s and Ellen’s, after
the teacher’s brain teaches the learner’s brain and vice versa.
the meal and lively conversation, all the guests took a walk
He spoke with my friend Mariano Sigman, a brilliant
around Fresh Pond which is close by their home.
neuroscientist (and much more than that) about this and
On our walk, Antonio and I spoke, and I told him about my
Mariano understood that the area of teaching has been very
work on child’s teaching. Like almost everyone else, he
under-studied despite its centrality to human lives. Mariano,
responded to it by speaking about children’s learning
along with very talented people in his laboratory (Andrea
because that is what has been studied extensively until I
Goldin and Cecilia Calero) conducted the very first study on
reminded him that I was studying children’s teaching, the flip
how the teacher’s and learner’s brains couple (or don’t)
side of what causes learning. I remember that literally
leading to learning (or not) among learners. This was a path-
stopped him in his tracks.
setting study and others are now following in their
At this point, my recounting of this story hits a fork in the
This is a very important piece in our attempt to understand
road. Antonio has told me two versions of what followed our

Q. - How did you come up with the idea to

research teaching?
S.S. - I had been looking at issues of children’s cognitive development and
learning for a number of years. In fact, my PhD thesis was on the topic of
Piaget’s and Bruner’s theories of development and learning. In addition,
because of my abiding interest in educational implications of my work, I
worked on curriculum development for elementary school science. I
understood that we had to know what the origins of children’s knowledge
and understanding are so that we could best address them in curricula.


For example, think of the following: you take a rifle and point it parallel to
the ground that is flat, and you also hold a bullet next to and at the height
of the rifle’s barrel. You fire the rifle, and at the very moment, the bullet
exits the barrel you release the bullet that was in your hand. The question
asked to children, and adults is: will the two bullets hit the ground at the
same time or will one hit it first. And if one hits it first, the child is asked
which one will reach the ground first. Think about this for a moment.
Most people, including adults, think that the bullet released from the hand
will land first because the fired bullet travels parallel to the ground until, in
their words, its momentum gets sapped, and it is only then that it begins
dropping towards the ground.
The dropped bullet doesn’t have that momentum so it will hit the ground
first. Some say that the fired bullet will hit the ground first because it is
traveling faster than the released bullet. Few people give the correct
answer which is that they will hit the ground at the same time because
there is only one force acting on both of them, gravity, and that gravity
equally on both of them. The fired bullet begins falling the moment it exits the barrel and it falls at the same speed
as the dropped bullet.
Children answer in the ways I just mentioned and few Teaching these phenomena often requires a specially-
have a correct understanding of the problem at hand. made world, a carpentered world that is different from
This is what a curriculum developer is confronted with, the natural world that surrounds us.
and he has to find ways to address children’s incorrect Another tip about what would probably not be useful is
understandings. It is important to mention here that to try to teach ideas, knowledge, understandings (IKU in
children’s misconceptions are shorthand) that are natural for humans. An example of
there because our intuitions lead us to understand the natural understanding comes from the grammar of
world in a particular way. And these intuitions are deep spoken language. Our brains have been designed,
and powerful. Given this, how do you construct through evolution, to come to learn the grammar of
curriculum materials to guide children to another spoken language which is extraordinarily complex. We
understanding when you are up against a don’t have to teach children how to speak a language, or
powerful intuition that is in place for a good reason? languages, grammatically. It’s enough that they are
exposed to the language. The brain is built in such a way
The same question can be asked about homeschooling. that virtually every child can learn a spoken language’s
What activities do you want to give your children so grammar effortlessly without it being taught.
that they will come to have a better understanding of In contrast, children must be taught written language
whatever it is that you are teaching them? for it to be learned. Showing children words in a book
To answer this question, let me first tell you what I you are reading to them will not lead to them learning
think would not be helpful. how to read. Reading is a rather late-comer in our
It is not enough to give children everyday experiences 200,000-year odyssey as humans. Written language is
with their world. They have had them from the moment around only 5,200 years old. Our brains did not evolve in
they were born. Exposing them to puddles that a way that written language is natural the way spoken
evaporate or to how high a basketball goes when you language is. The brain bolts various parts together for it
throw it against a floor at different levels of force will to learn how to read. What can we learn from this? The
generally not be helpful for understanding. All the content of schools is non-natural IKU. And because it is
extensive everyday experiences they have had in the not natural, it is hard to learn. Do you remember how
natural world hasn’t helped them gain a correct you, your children and/or grandchildren learned to read
understanding of these phenomena. If this is the case, and how difficult it was? That is the case for school
why would you want to give them more of the same? content, and not just reading.

W E D O N ’T T E A C H N A T U R A L I K U I N S C H O O L S B E C A U S E I T W I L L B E L E A R N E D E A S I L Y
W O N ’T B E U N D E R S T O O D W I T H O U T I N S T R U C T I O N .
What we teach in schools is hard-won counter-intuitive After your children have come to get a reflective grasp
IKU that has been developed over the millennia by on their IKU and thinking, you could let them tinker
scientists, scholars, mathematicians, philosophers and, around with their ideas and then you could suggest
others. And it is that counter-intuitive IKU that you will another way of thinking about the topic under discussion.
probably be some of what you’ll be teaching your children As opposed to the usual way of teaching where you tell
at home. So what could be ways to teach your children your children what answers are, the likelihood is that they
these very hard-to-learn IKU? A first step of one way will now better understand the content and/or their
may be to have them become aware of their intuitions. thinking because you enabled them to be meta-cognitive
You can give them something to work on but before you about their intuitions. They will be in a position to
tell them what ways to solve the problem are, you might compare them to what you are presenting as an
want to ask them what they think. In effect, you’re asking alternative. And they are likely to understand that you’re
them to be reflective about the knowledge they have. My presenting an alternative because they now understand
guess is that because you’ll be asking about something what your alternative is an alternative to their intuitions.
they probably didn’t think about, their intuitions, it is
unlikely that they will know what their understandings
Q. - Is it then, natural for humans to
are. This is a first step to get them to think about both teach and share knowledge? And what
their own IKU and thinking. The latter is called meta-
cognition. It’s about thinking about your thinking. And
about kids? You say that it is natural for
because that’s not natural, as well, you will have to guide human beings to teach from a very young
your children to be meta-cognitive. If you do it enough
age. Can you elaborate?
times, without driving them crazy by overdoing it, you will
be encouraging your children’s habits of mind in that S.S. - My pleasure. But before that, I want you to think
direction. What you’ll be helping them with is to be about how incredibly complex teaching is. When teaching,
reflective about what they know and how they think. If we adults take into account so many factors:
successful, you have given them a gift for life. what the learner knows about what you’re teaching so as 

not to aim your teaching too high or too low,
what the learner’s emotional state is (is he
anxious or confident about the material?), is the
learner motivated? How has the learner’s IKU,
emotions and motivation changed as a result of
your teaching? What should your next teaching
be about given your answers to the last
question, and much more. In short, teaching is
remarkably complicated. Now I can turn to its
being natural for humans.

I have been claiming that sharing knowledge

through teaching is natural to humans. There
are many avenues to support this claim and,
because of space restraints, I will mention only
a few: its universality, its reaching back to our
ancient ancestors, its uniqueness in the animal
kingdom and very young children teach.
If teaching is a natural cognitive ability on the
part of humans, it should not be restricted to
one group or another. It should be universal,
what is termed species- typical. There is no
controversy about whether people in modern
societies (such as Mexico, Argentina, France,
Italy, Canada, Japan, China) teach. It is also non-
controversial that there is teaching in pastoral
communities that do subsistence
farming. There is controversy, though, about
whether teaching occurs in nomadic hunter and
gathering (HG) societies. The number of people
in each HG group is around 25-35, and they are
nomadic as they search for prey and plants that
change given weather changes. In around 90%
of the 200 millennia of human existence, we
were HGs. In my opinion, work by Barry Hewlett
and his colleagues indicates quite clearly that
teaching is found in HG societies. If correct, this
universality points in the direction of teaching
as being a natural cognitive ability on the part
of humans.
There is growing evidence that our very ancient
ancestors taught. These ancestors were not
modern humans but who were part of our
lineage. For instance, in the stone age (called
the Paleolithic period), around 2.5 million years
ago (yes, two and a half million years ago), when
modern humans didn’t exist but Homo habilis did,
we find their stone tools. Modern cultural
archeologists study tools created back then.



They have ways of determining if stone tools produced by  knap by observation and imitation alone. Teaching is
our ancient ancestors were done by experts, experienced almost surely necessary for that to happen. If we want to
Homo habilis or novices in creating tools from rocks. To claim that teaching is a natural cognitive ability for
give a hint at what’s involved in creating stone tools, the humans, we should expect it to be available before modern
creator of the tools must choose an appropriate rock humans, and it seems that this is the case.
that can be used as a hammer and another rock that can
be hit which chips off, with the chips becoming the basis AND, AS A LAST POINT TO KEEP YOU
for a tool. The chipped stone has to be of a certain type CURIOUS ABOUT THIS, IT IS THOUGHT
and hit at a particular place, angle and strength with the THAT OUR ANCIENT ANCESTORS, HOMO
rock hammer so as to chip off a part of the rock that will
serve as the tool. This is called knapping. When modern
adults are taught how to knap, it takes considerable
time, years, before they become expert. It is also the HOW THEY TAUGHT OTHERS HOW TO
case that it is highly unlikely that someone can learn to KNAP.
A third line of reasoning about why teaching is a natural A second part of their definition is that, when teaching,
cognitive ability is that, in the animal kingdom, teaching the teacher loses something or at least doesn’t gain
is unique to our species. This does not mean that other something immediately. Think about this: when a
animals don’t teach. They do. What it does mean, though, cheetah mother brings dead prey to her cubs for them
is that human teaching is different from teaching found to eat, she is compromised regarding her survival. She
among non-human animals. It is species-unique. doesn’t eat the prey and, as a result, loses survival-wise.
As an exercise, think about which animals you think As an aside, this kind of behavior and other behaviors of
teach. Many think that all animals teach or at least an “altruism” on the part of non-human animals (and
overwhelming number of animals teach each other. humans, as well) was problematic for Darwin, as he
Before I reveal which animals teach, let’s see what admitted in his writings.
scientists think about that. The third part of their definition is that a learner either
In a now-classic journal article, Caro and Hauser (1992) learns something he could not have learned without
asked if non-human animals teach. In order to arrive at being taught or learns it more quickly than had he not
an answer, you don’t just say yes or no. You need a been taught.
definition of teaching that could apply to non-human At this point, you are probably curious as to which
animals. Their definition was based on evolutionary animals teach according to this evolutionary-theory-
theory and observations of animals in the wild based definition. But before I tell you, given this
(ethology). The definition of the non-human animal definition, think again about which animals you think
teacher included neither an intention to teach nor an teach.
understanding of the learner’s understanding of the task For the moment, there seem to be four non-human
at hand, such as chimpanzees fashioning a tool (a twig species that teach and, unexpectedly, none are primates
with its leaves pruned) for inserting into a termite nest (monkeys – with tails and great apes – without tails:
where termites crawl up the twig to then be eaten. chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans). The
The definition has several parts. One is that the teacher four are: (1) meerkats which are part of the mongoose
acts differently in the presence of a naïve animal than family, (2) a bird called a pied babbler, (3) some felines,
when in the presence of an animal that knows what may such as cheetahs and house cats, but not lions because
be taught. If the presumed teacher acts the same way lions hunt in groups, called prides, and the young can
with a naïve and knowledgeable animal, it would be hard observe how prey are attacked and killed as opposed to
to make the claim that teaching is happening. cheetahs that raise their cubs in isolation.

The third support for teaching being a natural Very few researchers have studied teaching
cognitive ability was that human teaching is among children below age 3½, and that may be
species-unique, meaning our teaching is different due to a possibly hidden assumption that teaching
from that of non-human animals. We humans have requires language. However, children at age 1 year
an intention to teach, and we take into account who are preverbal (they do not speak but
the learners’ understanding of what is being they understand language) do communicate
taught, their emotional state, motivation and socially, and they do that by pointing.
more. All of these important parts of human Research conducted by Ulf Liszkowski and his
teaching are absent in the definition of teaching colleagues in Hamburg, Germany indicates that
for non-human animals. In this sense, then, human preverbal 1-year-old infants have some of the
teaching is unique in the animal kingdom. basics of teaching in their command. They
recognize a knowledge gap; they act to close it;
The fourth support for teaching being natural for they correct mistakes and even anticipate others’
humans concerns children’s teaching. If very young mistakes and act to ward them off before
children teach, which we saw is remarkably they are made. All of these are at the heart of
complex, and do so without having been taught teaching.
how to teach, this would suggest that teaching is
indeed natural for humans. Work I have done with Briefly, regarding recognizing a knowledge gap
my colleague, Margalit Ziv, shows that children and acting to reduce it, Liszkowski did the
age 3½ already teach, and they do it mostly following. He showed an array of objects on a
through demonstrations with explanations table to a preverbal 1-year-old infant and talked
accompanying the demonstration; children age 5 about each of them. He then inadvertently (but
teach contingently, meaning that they adjust their really on purpose) knocked one off the table, say,
teaching to the learner’s changing knowledge a key. The infant saw it fall to the floor. After
state that changed because of the teacher’s a short time, he looked around and asked the
teaching; and children age 5 teach mostly through infant where the key was, and the infant
explanations with demonstrations accompanying pointed to its location.
the explanations.
You might think that nothing extraordinary
In and of itself, it may seem remarkable that happened here. After all, the experimenter didn’t
children age 3½ teach. But know where the key was, and when he asked the
teaching is unlikely to appear magically at age knowledgeable infant where it was, the infant
3½. It almost surely has preparation pointed to it. At first glance, nothing much of
before that age. importance seems to be happening here.
-year-olds teach by explaining. All of this lends credence to
the idea that teaching may be a natural cognitive ability.
I presented four supports for the claim that teaching is a
natural cognitive ability: teaching’s universality, its
appearance in our ancient ancestors, human teaching being
unique in the animal world and teaching is found in toddlers
and it has precursors among infants. In concert, these
supports seem to support the claim that teaching is a
natural cognitive ability among humans.

Q. - Why is it that you have been visiting so

many countries, mainly India? Can you
share some details on what you do?
(related to learning and if possible self-
directed learning?

I have visited India five times in the past 2 years and have
been working there with Bhavani Rao from Amrita University
and her team in the AmmachiLabs. They are working with
women in remote villages to empower them by giving
knowledge and skills that allow them to be gainfully
employed in tailoring, masonry, plumbing and other
professions. Along with that, the women are taught life skills
about gender equality and their empowerment, for example,
by having skills of a trade that allow them to be employed,
thus increasing the family income. When a woman marries a
You might think that nothing extraordinary happened here. man, she moves to his house which is often in another
After all, the experimenter didn’t know where the key was, village, and they often live with his family in the same home.
and when he asked the knowledgeable infant where it was, In the village society, men are the traditional breadwinners
the infant pointed to it. At first glance, nothing much of and, as a consequence, problems arise between women, their
importance seems to be happening here. husbands, and his extended family. I’ll get back to that later.
But notice that there is a knowledge gap. The infant knew How did we meet? I was fortunate to be invited to a small
something that the experimenter (presumably) didn’t, and conference at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the
the infant acted to reduce the knowledge gap by pointing to splendorous surroundings of the Vatican, and among the
it. So as to test this idea further, the experimenter participants were three women from Amrita University in
conducted another experiment where he dropped the key, India. Their work fascinated me and, when we all returned
but this time he saw where it fell. When the experimenter home, I wrote to Bhavani Rao.
asked infants where it was, many fewer infants pointed to She wrote me about problems they were having in villages,
its location. That may be the case because there is no such as tailoring experts not showing up at appointed times
knowledge gap here because both the infant and the to teach village women skills and knowledge for
experimenter knew where the object was. employment. Given my interest in peer teaching, I suggested
she encourage the women to teach each other, where a
For the moment, it appears that there is a developmental woman who is knowledgeable about, say measurement, could
trajectory for children’s abilities to teach. There are teach the other women about it and another woman who had
cognitive precursors for teaching among preverbal infants knowledge about how to create seams from strips of cloth
age 1; children age 3½ teach through demonstrating; and 5 could teach that to the others. And it worked.

My suggestion led to
a switch in thinking.
Instead of thinking that only experts could teach novices,
the AmmachiLabs people came to understand that the
village women could teach what they know and that their
combined efforts could lead to their ability to tailor a
saree or make an outhouse or indoor plumbing. Because of
that success, I was invited to visit the AmmachiLabs and to
see villages close up. And, as they say, the rest is history.
But this history is having an unusual trajectory. Something
completely unexpected happened when I went to India. It
was there that I met Amma, a spiritual guru and a national
treasure, who is the guiding inspiration for an ashram that,
among other things, houses Amrita University. I was
exposed to her thinking and her messages of love,
empathy and compassion.

Because of my profound interest in teaching, I began to other person’s willingness to take, to accept what is being
mull over and understand how these emotions and shared. In addition, the teacher has responsibility for
connectedness are deeply intertwined in teaching. another person, a learner. This involves a commitment to
I may have come to that realization in time, but I am achieve both the mutual goal of the learner’s learning and
certain that listening to Amma’s talks spurred that the well-being of the learner as teaching and learning
thinking. transpire. And this commitment to another’s well-being
So far, this is what I have come to understand. In addition includes mutual empathy the teacher and learner have for
to mind-to-mind coupling in teaching, there is heart-to- each other. Moreover, teaching involves acts of respect for
heart coupling. At the heart of teaching is altruism which, each other and for what each is doing in teaching and
under certain circumstances, may be natural to humans. learning. All of this in concert makes teaching feel like it
Research on altruism in toddlers has been done without possesses a spark of spiritual communion with another.
reference to teaching. On the other hand, embedded in
teaching is altruism, empathy, responsibility, trust, To place this on another plane, teaching involves what has
respect, friendship and more. been termed prosociality. As best as I know, teaching
When one teaches and, (it must be added) when it goes hasn’t been considered in the literature around prosociality.
well, something special happens. A closeness, akin to and And what, you may be asking, does this have to do with
possibly beyond friendship, is formed between the teacher homeschooling? I am suggesting that we understandably
and learner. Folded into teaching are emotional think of our home-schooled children as learners.
bidirectional connections the learner and teacher feel for They learn in school, and that’s what we have taken on
each other. ourselves when we teach them at home. What I am
suggesting here is that we can also think about our
Involved in this bidirectional giving to and receiving from is children as teachers. When they teach others, they come
moving from unequal to equal relations regarding both IKU to understand what they teach at a deeper level, as
and power (without abusing the power of the initial giver, mentioned in an article I wrote for the first edition of this
the teacher). Teaching, which is fundamentally giving, also journal. But something unexpected happens when they
involves a willingness to share with another person and teach. They come to develop keener interpersonal 
The Italian Prelations that
can serve them well in life.
By encouraging your
children to teach, you are
probably fostering the very
positive interpersonal
relations I just mentioned.
Q. - Some of what you have to tell us is surprising.
Until now, I have been asking the questions. I’d like
to ask you if there is anything else you would like to

I know I have been wordy, so I will make my final remarks short. I am very
excited about how I view our ancient/new field of teaching and maybe
this enthusiasm came through in my words. In addition to its being an
area that gets at very deep issues about our human existence, it has
important implications for schooling, whether in schools or at home. I
tried to convey how some of the ideas I presented can be used for
homeschooling. I hope they came across and will be useful for those
reading these pages.

And, last, I would like to thank you, Mariana, for giving me this
opportunity to present my ideas. To end this interview,