A little more background about me: I’m a teacher. Specifically, I teach adult education. I help folks who, generally, are trying to get a high school credential, either through taking classes and making up credits they missed in high school, or by helping them prepare for the HiSET (another version of the GED that the state of Maine uses). Due to the nature of my work I come in contact with a lot of nontraditional learners. School, as it’s traditionally been run, doesn’t work for a lot of people. Some folks managed to get through it and graduate, but some, like many of my students, drop out. When they come back to school and work with us, one of my major goals is to make their second go around better than the first.
That’s not always so easy, though, and today a student reminded me of that. In a fit of frustration over some math work, he declared he hated having ADHD and just didn’t see the point in it. Why should anyone be cursed with this seeming lack of ability to just sit and concentrate? Unsure of what to say that would make any difference I said, “I wonder if there is any evolutionary advantage to having ADHD?” Sparked by this question, my student immediately got up and went over to one of our classroom computers and conducted his own brief research project (in my opinion, math can always wait).
“Until recently in human evolution, children took charge of their own schooling by watching others, asking questions, learning through doing, and so forth. The very structure of modern schools, Gray argues, is why many children today have trouble adjusting to social expectations.
“Gray argues that there’s enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that if children are given freedom to learn the way they do best—instead of being forced to adjust to the norms of the classroom—they no longer need medication and can use their ADHD traits to live more healthy and productive lives.” (ADHD and Evolution: Did ADHD Help Keep Humans Alive?)
The above quote comes from one of the articles my student found and I think it connects closely to the ideals behind the concept of the forest school (and other similarly rooted educational philosophies). In a forest school, or any school that embraces true student-centered learning, or unschooling, children are allowed to determine how and what they learn. Children watch, explore, and model in these types of settings. They are not expected sit still and listen for long stretches of time.
While neither of my children have ADHD, they are still children who shouldn’t have to worry about the current “norms of the classroom”. What’s more, I don’t want them growing up to be adults who believe that the only kind learning that is valued is the learning one gets from sitting inside a classroom. And even further beyond that, I would argue that it is the duty of all educators to remind themselves and their students that there is no one “right” way in which to learn and that we really need to begin to look beyond desks and chairs and four walls as a way to define what education should feel and look like.
What if we could all go to school outside? What if this were a readily available option for learners at all levels, not just a select few in the primary grades? I have often wondered in the last couple of weeks what our society might look like if we were allowing all school children, or adults who are attempting school again, opportunities to learn outside, to learn from nature and from their own natural curiosity. I believe we would see a healthier, more confident, and more inquisitive society.