All I am saying in this book can be summed up in two words – Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple – or more difficult. Difficult, because to trust children we must trust ourselves – and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted. And so we go on treating children as we ourselves were treated, calling this “reality”, or saying bitterly “If I could put up with it, they can too”.
It is hard not to feel that there must be something very wrong with much of what we do in school, if we feel that we need to worry so much about what many people all “motivation”. A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the thing that he sees bigger people doing.
Children resist, almost always angrily, all such unasked-for teaching because they hear in it the (perhaps unconscious) message, “You’re not smart enough to see that this is important to learn, and even if you were, you’re not smart enough to learn it.” Naturally it makes them hurt and angry.
The worst damage we do with all this testing is to the children’s own confidence and self-esteem, their belief that others trust them to learn and that they can therefore trust themselves. For every unasked for test is above all else a statement of no confidence in the learner. That I check up at all on what you have learned proves that I fear you have not really learned it.
This book did not change, as I had hoped it might, the way schools deal with children. I said, trust them to learn. The schools would not trust them, and even if they had wanted to, the great majority of the public would not have let them. Their reasons boil down to these: (1) Children are no good; they won’t learn unless we make them. (2) The world is no good; children must be broken to it. (3) I had to put up with it; why shouldn’t they? To people who think this way, I don’t know what to say. Telling them about the real learning of real children only makes them cling to their theories about the badness and stupidity of children more stubbornly and angrily than ever. Why do they do this? Because it gives them a license to act like tyrants and saints. “Do what I tell you!” roars the tyrant. “It’s for your own good, and one day you’ll be grateful,” says the saint.