Telling Isn’t Teaching and Listening Isn’t Learning!
By MICHAEL HEBRON, PGA Master Professional, CI
September 18, 2002
To Whom This May Concern
Every elected official from President Bush to New York’s Mayor Bloomberg
has made education a priority. But, for all the attention given to improving
schools, the focus may have been too narrow. The public cry is normally
about poor schools, but studies show that is really putting the cart (schools)
before the horse (children). When the focus for improving education shifts
first to improving the “learning potential” of every child who is not making
progress, there will be less talk about poor schools. Note: Telling isn’t
teaching, and listening isn’t learning.
“Learning” must be at the heart of education, not information and when
learning is overlooked, attempts to educate fail. Unfortunately, many schools
are just responding to poor grades and they are not developing pro-active
programs for improving the learning potential of the children who are not
performing at grade level. When learning skills improve performance potential
also improves. Study after study has demonstrated “what can” significantly
improve our children’s ability to gain a meaningful education is often
overlooked; i.e. The Intelligence of Movement and Play!
Note: The word “teach” does not appear in Webster’s definitions of education
or learn. Webster’s defines “education” as: 1) training by which people learn
to “develop” and use their mental and physical process; 2) gaining
experience; 3) the fruit of training. Webster defines learn as: 1) to acquire
knowledge by “experience”; 2) to come to know or become aware.
Some of the earliest roots of formal education were developed in ancient
Egypt. In David Silverman’s book, Egypt, about this time in history, it is pointed
out that the word for “teaching” was derived from the same word as
“punishment”. For many of today’s children, educational environments are still
Nature has always known what the science of learning is now discovering:
Mankind plays to learn. Humans are born playful, playing to learn, not
learning to play. Studies show that the “higher cortex” of our brain is opened
and expanded through play, improving our thinking, reasoning, creativity, and
learning skills. Play and movement are both essential to long-term memory. A
number of misconceptions about play and movement have caused them to be
seen as less than noble acts, but current research shows that play and
movement expand man’s capacity to learn. The classic best sellers Magical
Child, by Joseph Chilton Pearce, and Absorbent Mind, by Maria Montessori,
also document how important play is to long-term learning.
Science points out that there are no poor learners, only poor learning
environments. We are all born perfect self-learners and perfect self-teachers.
Schools who want to improve test scores may want to start linking current
findings about learning to classroom activities. How could any approach to
education be workable, without taking the nature of learning into
consideration? Some approaches to learning are just conditioning children
with information and there is a difference between learning and conditioning,
memorizing and getting an education.
A Suggestion: We have national, state, city and local park systems that have
always added to our quality of life. I am suggesting (and there are many
studies that support this approach) that these parks could also help improve a
child’s ability to learn, and this opportunity should no longer be overlooked.
While there are some recreation programs in our public parks, there could be
an expanded utilization of these public facilities by integrating them with the
educational system . For example, if our education systems integrated “Play
to Learn” programs at the public parks, the children who experienced these
programs would improve their “learning potential” and would be better
prepared to make progress at school. School budgets would also be spending
fewer resources during the school year on children with poor grades, if “Play
to Learn” programs were expanding the higher cortex of the brain.
Note: Adults play to learn all the time. Adults play with computers, recipes,
budgets, etc. to learn. Learning experts know that curiosity, imagination and
self -discovery (play) are at the foundation of learning that lasts. When
children are asked to memorize, do drills, and copy models the higher cortex
of the brain is not being fully engaged. As was said, in this environment a
child is being conditioned and as was pointed out, there is a difference
between learning and conditioning. Studies show mankind’s absorbent mind
expands its ability to learn when man is allowed to interact with ever changing
Play never tries to memorize - but has wonderful long-term memory.
Play never has failure, only feedback, that’s never wrong.
Play does not try to be exact, but is often perfect.
Play does not rely on directions, but always gets to its destination.
Play tries what’s new and different, but is never scared.
Play takes risks (learning requires risks) but is never anxious.
Play has many Ah! moments, that last forever.
Play happens in safe environments. Learning requires a safe environment
where outcomes are not judged or criticized.
Play, self-discovery, curiosity, imagination, and playful problem solving, are all
from the same family and are the foundation of long-term learning.
Schools who want to improve should probably see themselves as “caretakers”
of learning potential and “developers” of thinking skills, not just teachers of
subjects. Teachers should see themselves as “Missionaries for Learning”.
“Play” has been at the foundation of every discovery mankind has ever made.
Play 1) energizes learners; 2) has the tools to explore, 3) the talent to
execute; and 4) the skill to recognize outcomes. Long-term learning has
always required the insights of play. “ A new consciousness is normally not a
new thing; it’s a long playful return to what has always been”, Helen Luke.
By improving a child’s “learning potential,” we then improve their performance
potential. Education environments that want to be successful only to be 1) a
source of possibilities, 2) a source of energy for the possibilities and 3) a safe
environment to explore all the possibilities. “Learning to learn is the most
important skill of our times,” said Ronald Gross, of Columbia University, at the
“Summit for Life Long Learning”, Seattle, Washington.
Ready - Aim - Learn!™ is the goal. Ready - be focused. Aim - interact with
changing environments. Learn - observe outcomes of your interactions
without criticisms and judgments. The joy of long-term learning can be
experienced by any child who “plays to learn.” What will happen in the future
may be more a political than educational question, but keep in mind, when
you remove the “L” from learn you have “earn”. Effective education helps
children “earn” their knowledge through play. Every park systems in America
could offer “play to learn” programs that would help children and schools be
all they can be.
My vision sees a series of school books entitled Ready-Aim-Learn™ that go
with play to learn programs. The books have titles like: Ready, Aim, Learn
Math! Ready Aim Learn Reading, Ready-Aim-Learn-Spelling and Ready, Aim,
Learn Golf. Ready (be focused) - Aim (Interact with changing environments) -
Learn (observe outcomes of your interactions without criticisms and
“Children learn to read by first ‘playing’ with words,” was a headline in USA
today June 11, 2001. “Play” is personal in nature and has always been
mankind’s most efficient approach to learning to solving problems and solving
problems is learning. Studies show that the very important decoding and
encoding skills that people use to make progress with are developed through
“play.” Again, it has been demonstrated that 1) curiosity, 2) imagination and
3) self-discovery (i.e. play), are the foundation for all learning that lasts, and
when children are asked to memorize, to do drills and copy experts, they are
not using these tools for learning. “Early experiences are so powerful, they
can completely change the way a child turns out,” says Harry Chugani, of
Wayne State University. The sooner efficient learning skills are developed,
the sooner children will love school. Mankind was designed by nature for
success, not failure, and play promotes success.
The Committee on Development in the Science of Learning points out: The
revolution in the study of the mind that has occurred in the last three or four
decades has important implications for education in the future. A new
approach for learning is now coming into focus that leads to very different 1)
design of curriculum, 2) teaching and 3) assessments of progress, than those
often found in schools today.
“The story that can be told about learning is far richer than ever before, and it
promises to evolve dramatically in the next generation with more effective
ways to facilitate learning. The goal of education is better conceived as
helping students develop the intellectual tools and learning strategies needed
to acquire the knowledge that allows people to think productively.” According
to How People Learn, by the National Research Council - January, 2002.
Approaches to education should be geared to developing curiosity,
imagination, and problem solving skills -“Play to Learn” programs will
accomplish this goal.
The Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practices points out,
“teacher assisted environments that guide, motivate and support self-
discovery learning are more effective than teacher centered environments.
Learning skills and education do not come from teachers.” Learning
environments become more workable when a child’s “play” and self-discovery
are guided and supported without judgmental observations. What a student
can remember and repeat is more important than what a teacher has to say.
“Teaching is really the art of assisting discovery”, says Mark Van Doren.
Note: (A) Sixth graders who had “inquiry-based” physics lessons were shown
to do better on conceptual physics problems than eleventh or twelfth grade
physics students taught by conventional methods in the same school system.
In another study, when seventh-ninth grade students were compared with
eleventh and twelfth grade physics students, the younger students who
learned from an “inquiry based” approach, had a better grasp of the
fundamental principles of physics (White- Frederickson, 1997, 1998)
(B) This new approach to teaching geometry helped second grade children
exceed the skills of a group of undergraduate students at a leading university
when it came to representing and visualizing three dimensional forms (Lehrer
and Chazan, 1998).
The new science of learning is providing knowledge to significantly improve
people’s ability to become “active” learners. I.E. people who are better
prepared to transfer what they have learned to new problems and different
In my view, “play to learn” programs in park systems would be a home run for
everyone who wants to improve the education system in America. Dr. Harold
Kalawn - University of Chicago- “Our ability to make progress is hard wired or
genetically encoded into our brain, but the level of learning and development
depends entirely on the “environment” people are exposed to, this is
The opportunity for using “play to learn” programs in park systems that can
support and improve our education systems is there, and it should be used.
Schools now spend considerable time and resources from September through
June trying to improve poor grades. “Play to learn” programs that engage
children in activities such as music, checkers, chess, ball games, art, etc,
make children more effective thinkers, and improve their ability to grasp
concepts that they now miss. These kinds of activities engage a child’s
curiosity, imagination and problem solving skills, all central to growing
intelligence. Today’s studies show play enhances intelligence and support
Aristotle’s statement (384BC- 322BC), “Intelligence is the final cause of
Learning is a natural act that is often overlooked. We do not have to “try to”
learn. The basis for all our memories, thoughts, emotions and perceptions is
the neutral firing of neurons in our brain, as we interact with our environment
(i.e. play). These experiences are encoding (wiring) the brain with information
that becomes the source of long-term knowledge and learning.
During mankind’s evolution, nature intended for man to wake up every day
and look for food for the body and food for the mind. Schools often do not
offer the kind of menu for the mind that can build stronger learning skills. The
National Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning points out
that children learn best when they are excited about learning and not worried
about results. Yet, our education system is now taking “a pass-the-exams”
approach to teaching. “Some two million years ago, man emerged in Africa,
with a smaller brain then he has today. Man’s brain enlarged over time and
his capacity to learn was also enhanced as he “developed” tools, civilizations,
and agriculture.” (September 2002, National Geographic) The very same acts
of self-discovery and problem solving that man used millions of years ago to
expand his brain and capacity to learn, should be used today. Until recent
studies, science did not know that the brain had the ability to be “developed”
beyond its capacity at birth through play. The brain should now be seen as
similar to a muscle, and will grow with use.
On January 14, 2001, the New York Times ran an editorial by Randle C.
Archibold that discussed, “What makes a good education?” In this column
there were several points made by experts about effective learning.
Dr. Botstein, “a good education develops the skills of critical thinking (i.e.
Robert Silvirs, “a good education develops some intellectual curiosity about
learning and exploring possibilities for understanding.”
Leon Botstine, “A good education helps you learn to ask useful questions.”
Education that is geared to helping people is not as valuable as education
that is geared to helping someone help themselves. Schools seem to be
better at recognizing talent, than developing talent. Effective education helps
people learn very little directly, it creates settings in which children can
discover for themselves what they can do. “Learning how to learn is at the
heart of all education” R.A. Magill.
“Play to learn” programs in parks would support self-discovery learning where
the fun of progress through “play” outweighs the pressure of trying to change
poor grades, for both schools and children. The brain will learn what it is
exposed to. Are children learning limitations, fears, and what they can’t do in
schools? In some cases that is exactly what they are learning. “I can’t read,
spell, or do math.”
Here is what the O.B. Shallow has to say about making learning fun: “Fun
creates enjoyment. Enjoyment invites participation. Participation focuses
attention. Attention expands awareness. Awareness promoted insight. Insight
generates knowledge. Knowledge yields proficiency.” Kids would love to go to
school, learn, retain, create and participate. You might consider the opposite
cycle starting with an absence of fun, joy, and “play.” Start with pain or
boredom on the front end of the cycle and see where you conclude . Effective
education is not geared to changing poor habits; it is geared to changing poor
In his book ,The Intelligence of Play, Chuck Hogan shares with us that
Einstein said,“Imagination is more important than science. Imagination tells us
where we are going, not where we have been.” Do we teach imagination in
school? Are you kidding me? We teach the three R’s by the regurgitation
method. Most “teachers, teach” by spouting some information or demanding
that the information is read by the student. Then the student is given tests on
the information. A few days later, ninety percent of the information is
forgotten. This isn’t play or experience relevant to the learner’s world. It is
damn hard work and if you don’t subscribe to it then you get a D or F!
Perhaps the most creative learning accomplished by the students of standard
education is in understanding the mechanics of manipulating the educational
system. That is, how to get passing grades without learning much about what
is actually useful in life or about the current subject matter.
Albert Einstein, among other genius types, couldn’t handle the realm of public
education. They dropped out to do some real learning that would be useful in
the real world.
Thank you for your time,
Michael Hebron, PGA, MPCI
Ready-Aim-Learn™ and related titles are trademarks and copyrights of
Michael Hebron, Learning Golf Inc. and encompassed in the Joy of Learning
also copyright Michael Hebron, Learning Golf, Inc. All rights reserved 2002
© 2006, 2008 Michael Hebron