We need to learn more from children, especially what makes them passionate about learning. Arden Hayes is a little boy with a passion for US presidential history. At age 5, he knows more about the holders of America’s chief office than, I would wager, many graduate students slogging through advanced degrees in political science. It’s so clear from Hayes’ profile in the L.A. Times that he is deeply engaged in his chosen subject. He obviously possess considerable rote learning and memorized information. But you can practically see his smile beaming as he explains that the 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to use the telephone. And, by the way, a distant relative.
Children like Arden are remarkable. They show us that kids are powerful learners and that learning doesn’t always have to be packaged into a videogame. Apparently, kids can control their ability to focus their attention if they’re properly incentivized. Who knew? The line is a careful one to tread because there is so much computer-mediated learning that is proving outstanding. The Khan Academy might be one of the Gates’ Foundation’s more brilliant funding projects. New apps for kids with autism are changing education and parenting for the better.
Yet education remains the weakest link in our economic system. Both in terms of money pointlessly spent and in opportunity cost, we, as a society, have not figured out how to invest wisely so as to achieve the best results. Another case that caught my attention is that of Timothy Doner, the teenage language-learning sensation. He is what is known as a hyperpolyglot, having taught himself a ridiculous number of languages by the tender age of sixteen. No doubt he has aptitude and desire, but note the emphasis in the article on his clever use of his iPhone. The question is: Are we dealing with outliers or the start of something new and transformative in the world of learning?