Snake Bites and Authentic Learning

Tromping through the woods, we happened onto an unwelcome companion along the trail. SNAKE!!! *cue shrieking and running*

As the rest of us made our escape, my Father reached out to snatch that snake. As the snake wrapped around his wrist, he explained that this one won’t do any real damage. Of course, snake bites always hurt, but the real thing to worry about is the venom.

My Father (hi Dad!) is something of a snake expert. When he comes across one, he immediately knows whether it is worth reaching for, or best avoided. When he does get bitten, he instinctively resists the urge to pull away, and just waits for the little fellow to extract his daggers. This way, he only gets two little punctures rather than two long gashes. He claims it doesn’t even hurt much.

The other day, I asked him how he came to know so much about snakes.

Back when he was 8 years old, he received a book. He studied it over and over so that he would know all of the snakes in the wild. He knew that catching snakes could be dangerous and even deadly if he made a mistake, so he read the book cover to cover until he was confident in his knowledge.

That made me question – is there anything I learned when I was 8 years old that I could retain for a half a century, well enough to bet my life on it?

I’m not sure there is.

Authentic Learning

We learn best when we care about the subject, when it has an immediate application, and when our learning has a purpose we perceive to be valuable.

Studying a textbook or memorizing lists of data for a test are not likely to produce long-term retention of knowledge the way real world experience does. Schools can try to duplicate the experience of authentic learning, but typically, they fall short. This brings me to the topic of worldschooling.

More on that later.

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