I Won’t Learn From You
By Herbert Kohl
Since the day a child is born, he or she conceptualizes himself or herself in a learning environment. Learning for a human being is a continuous process, first he or she learns to eat, then to scroll, talk and walk and then perform numerous of daily rituals and many other activities. These are all necessities and requirements of the social environment with whom we are coherently related and linked. But when a person refuses to learn, he or she is involved in a very complex relation with the society. This is what Herbert Kohl envisages in his most gripping essay, I Won’t Learn from You becoming the first most important piece of critical pedagogy. (McBride, 2007)
Consciously our learning process is derived from several of our belief systems like values, knowledge, laws and experiences, which play the most crucial component in our life. As more we find ourselves confined to these systems, more they create a direct or indirect effect on our learning. We in our day-to-day lives learn because the situation demands and our society want us to learn but we cannot learn what we ourselves want to learn. Here the concept comes in what the Herbert Kohl states I Won’t Learn From You, it simply means negating the whole concept of learning process and challenging the stance society or environment has been taking towards the learning. Not-learning if followed is considered by many as an ignorance, carelessness or a fad yet for Kohl not- learning is basically a learning which a learner involves himself in a sub consciousness level of his mind More problems come when not-learning becomes more of a personal and emotional and here compassion and understanding is required the most.
Every day and at every movement of our time, we are presented with the learning opportunity. Some times we strive to attain every bit of knowledge given to us but at several occasions we ourselves don’t feel like learning. We defy or simply ignore what we don’t want to learn. This we can say as the knowledge ignored, but this concept for Herbert Kohl is “not learning”. We merely do not want to learn because not just we have least inclination for the subject, or we are ignorant or careless but it also means we do not go by the convention or approach what is being taught to us. This is where we see Kohl’s social consciousness lightened up through the hearts of non-learners.
We can see the concept non-learning originating in the schools, where for teachers coming across with one or two non-learners is everyday experience. These students do not want to learn not because they do not want to attain knowledge or skills but they do not like either the subject being taught, or the ways and the aptitude of the teacher or the environment of the class. Fear of failure among children also inhibits them from process of learning. Among many children this fear is so strong that it could even become a barrier in their conscious level and capacity of the children might get lose to know what he or she could learn and what not. “Failure results from a mismatch between what the learner wants to do and is able to do.”(Kohl, 1994, p. 6) It is a duty of a teacher to give assurance to such students and create an environment where they do not have to face any risky situation. For Kohl, depth of the child’s interest towards learning depends on his environment. An individual should be born and brought up in a productive environment, which enables him or her to apply his skills in his day-to-day interactions and also to recognize his abilities, which could have remained invisible otherwise.
Another most important facet of the concept not-learning is on account of the arrogance. Pride and over confidence are the biggest hindrances in the path of their growth. About this Kohl gave the example of his childhood days when he refused to learn Yiddish language from his parents. This refusal on his part he owes to his pride and avaricious attitude and now he feels guilty of not learning the language when he could have easily done. This not-learning attitude had devoid him from adopting further exposure towards learning valuable experiences.
Kohl states that books have capability to attract the attention of students, make them capable to increase imaginative powers and increase the importance of the child’s intellectual growth and perspective. Books increase opportunity for the children to expand their horizon and the way they perceive the world and increase their intellectual process. Books “allows them to enter worlds where the constraints of ordinary life are transcended” (Kohl, 1994, p. 38). To explain his view on the importance of books, Kohl uses the term overall which in turn gives an opportunity to the individual to perceive the world from his or her ways and experience the world through his own eyes. We can also say that books allow children to move into their fantasylands. Building the habit of book reading makes children develop their own ways of thinking and finding solutions to their own problems.
Learning outside the four walls of classroom gives students ways to gain access to new kind of knowledge as they gain in the classroom. The whole environment and the community have a tremendous impact on the child’s growth and development as it stimulates the child intellectually. This purpose of attainment of learning is to acquire new type of knowledge and information and help it in applying it in daily chores.
Instructors should not make children confined to learn particular curriculum rather give opportunity to them to develop their own insight into the subject, learn to analyze and at the same time learn to criticize it too. For e.g. many of the lessons are related to the social, economic and moral purpose but children are neither given the opportunity to develop their own views regarding the same, nor are allowed to criticize or appreciate or given them the power of reasoning and besides they are also not given the chance to pose the challenge even to their own previous knowledge. Kohl believes that this kind of education makes children incapable to understand their own capabilities or potentialities. Teachers also never take notice or give any attention to the student’s needs and values and thus they are forced to learn the subjects they don’t want to learn. Children’s behavior is adopted in the way their capacities are undermined. In other words teachers should provide additional resources to the students so that they do not get knowledge only with limited resources at their disposal.
By making students remained confined to the four-boundary walls of the school, we are taking away their right to information and other rights. It is all in our nature to love our teacher in the same way as we used to hate our teacher. If the student had been very young it would have been his very strong feeling but for a secondary or college student there might be other specific reasons. For e.g. a teacher who showers more love towards her or his favorite few would gain very little or no trust because it shows teacher does not possess any professionalism or objectivity. (Martin, 1990) This is right also because no body wants to learn anything if he or she doesn’t want to and also if teacher doesn’t take care of the child.
The situation and dilemma as faced by students can be seen in day-to-day lives. Children are not able to adopt any subject or any method of studies of their choice. Books naturally have a tendency to increase imaginative powers of children’s own world as while reading books children feel themselves moving around the trees or flying across the stars. So in schools, children should be given storybooks to read besides academy reading books otherwise they can lose their reigns of imagination. Secondly they should get a chance to make their lessons more imperative and interactive while giving them opportunity to take part in all the lessons actively. They should be allowed to go outside and made to interact with the nature. This would solve many purposes, as they would be able to make judgments soundly as well as wisely.
I Won’t Learn from You is a lesson for all teachers and students who just want their students to grasp what has been taught to them without answering the questions. Kohl also made us understand the reason behind the questions and ultimately fire and therefore to bring in the changes, it is very important as the process of learning not-to- learn should not be picked early in a classroom. This process not only would help the teachers but also the students to become better in handling situations. The educative system should never allow racist as well as any other form of derogatory terms used in the classroom.
There is no doubt of the fact that our society has taken great strides in every sphere of arena yet there is so much to be done and this could be started from schools. The not-learning approach tell us now is the time to make a good beginning and as learning process never ends, and so our willingness also to learn.
Kohl, H. 1994. “I Won’t Learn From You” and Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment. New York: The New Press.
Martin, W.B. 1990. The Culture of the School. In Teaching, Schools, and Society, edited by Evelina Orteza y Miranda and Romulo F. Magsino, p. 311-326. Bristol, PA: The Falmer Press.
McBride, M. 2007. Herbert Kohl and the enigma of not learning. Retrieved on February 3, 2009 from W.W.W: http://melaniemcbride.net/2007/08/01/herbert-kohl-and-the-enigma-of-not-learning/