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And What Do You Mean by Learning?

By Seymour Sarason

One of America's original thinkers about public education, Seymour Sarason poses the crucial question for all educators—""What do you mean by learning?" "Learning" is the word most used in educational literature and yet educators have great difficulty in defining it. Sarason demonstrates that the lack of clarity about the concept of learning is at the root of the disappointments of educational reform, the inadequacies of preparatory programs, and proclamations of policy. He takes a good look at another question as well: Why are the principles of learning implied by what parents of preschoolers...

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One of America's original thinkers about public education, Seymour Sarason poses the crucial question for all educators—""What do you mean by learning?" "Learning" is the word most used in educational literature and yet educators have great difficulty in defining it. Sarason demonstrates that the lack of clarity about the concept of learning is at the root of the disappointments of educational reform, the inadequacies of preparatory programs, and proclamations of policy. He takes a good look at another question as well: Why are the principles of learning implied by what parents of preschoolers say and do so different from the principles educators employ? And he goes a step further when he asks: Why is it that no one, educators or otherwise, has ever said that schools are places where teachers learn?

Central to Sarason's questions on all fronts is the distinction between the contexts of productive and unproductive learning, the latter being far more frequent than the former. Unlike the words "sticks" and "stones", "learning" is not concrete, visible, palpable. Learning is a process that takes place in a social context involving and intertwining motivation and attitudes, cognitive and emotional responses, no one of which is ever zero in strength. Recognizing this has enormous implications for pedagogy, school administration, and educational policy. Sarason discusses these implications by use of concrete examples familiar to any reader.

And What Do YOU Mean by Learning? is not about theory—it's a warning. It alerts readers to how glossing over what they mean by learning effectively stymies any educational reform. Educators' stock-in-trade is learning. Only when they become aware of what learning encompasses and the contexts in which it occurs can we have a starting point for real education.

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