Dr. Judith M. Newman



Not Learning

[ Journal Entry ]

Kohl's notion of "not-learning" is a very powerful one. It shifts some of the responsibility for student learning to us—students may make the decision to "not-learn" but we have the option of changing the learning situation so that they might choose to learn instead.

I can think of several not-learning decisions I have made in my own life. I chose, for example, to not-learn to use the phone system at UM. It did stuff like transfer calls, allow group calls, etc. But I just couldn't force myself to bother with that stuff.

I also chose to not learn the Collective Agreement. I figured there were lawyers on staff to help me out when problem situations arose and they would alert me to contractual necessities. So I just learned, instead, to check in with Alan before making a decision I thought might get me into trouble with the collective agreement.

We make all kinds of 'not-learning' decisions in our lives. So do kids. I interpret the hesitation to push full steam ahead with fast reading as having some not-learning roots. Is that a fair interpretation?

I found myself exploring the "Backstreet Boys" recently, because I'm working with a thirteen year-old who loves them. I bought her a book about the guys and last evening didn't I run into a program on Much Music which I actually watched! They're not bad, particularly when they're singing a cappella. I learned a bit more about how they got together and got their break, what they're working on at the moment—and I choose to learn more because it allows me to engage in conversation with Maggie (I never listen to Rock, R&B—I'm a classical music person!).

The reason I'm working with Maggie is that she's on the edge of being a not-learner. She's just finished seventh grade. She's quite bright, but definitely turned off—a classic not-learner—she procrastinates, avoids doing assignments, does them hurriedly at the last minute or late—she's not far from doing nothing at all. What I'm trying to do is show her that she doesn't have to avoid learning—that she's capable of making sense and finding ways of negotiating assignments that she finds satisfying.

Kohl's description of not-learning is one of the most powerful notions I've come across recently. What I find fascinating is that we're all not learners in some situation or other. You might find it useful to think about those situations where you choose to be a not-learner. because it's a sure bet that every student in your class will at some time or other decide to engage in not-learning.