Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes sings in their song Lack of Knowledge
“I’m not doing something I’m supposed to do
I’m doing something I’m not supposed to
I don’t know about that
I don’t know about that
I don’t know nothing bout nothing like that
Destroyed my people are
Destroyed my people are
Destroyed for lack of knowledge”
I was reminded of this song when I read the article Early swimmers found to glide ahead at school this morning.It’s not the article or the research that I find particularly disappointing but the idea that there is “something out there”, cue the x-files soundtrack, that parents and teachers don’t know that will give our students “physical, emotional, social and intellectual benefits.” This type of research and article, along with the latest educational trend or application, wants us to believe that there are secrets out there, that we don’t know about, secrets waiting to be discovered. Secrets that we need to know. Secrets that by not knowing are doing damage to our children and students. As the Violent Femmes sing, we will be destroyed by our lack of knowledge.
Secrets like the one in this report:
“Children who participate in early-years swimming appear to be achieving many milestones earlier than the normal population”
“Many of the skills that the early-years children are scoring well on have value in schooling and other areas of learning so they are likely to be better prepared for the transition to school”
So what are we, parents and teachers, to do?
Well Gordon suggests we need to:
“Read read read read read read read everything you can read and
Learn learn learn learn learn learn learn everything you can learn”
But hang on a minute!
What do we know about physical, emotional social and intellectual development?
Well we know that people learn through quality learning experiences that confirm or contrast prior understanding. And by quality we mean a broad range of suitable, different experiences where the learner has support in interpreting, reflecting and making meaning as a result of the experience.
So let’s examine “counting to 10,” one of the areas in which swimming lessons help children to develop earlier than their peers.
During swimming lessons the students are exposed to experiences with counting, socialisation and physical activity. They are supported by the teacher which helps them make sense of their experiences. This is how we learn, so I don’t have any reason not to agree with findings that swimming lessons benefit children in these areas. To us (parents and teachers) this is obvious. If the swimming teacher incorporates counting to 10 during games and activities in the lessons then this would also be beneficial. It is a supported activity, and this is is the kicker, it is different from other counting activities that the students usually experience. It adds to the breadth of the learner’s experiences, but it isn’t the only or even “the best” learning experience that students can have or need.
It is obvious that swimming lessons alone are not enough, that they couldn’t possibly pass the test of being diverse enough. Students who only (not that this would be possible) had physical, emotional, social and intellectual learning experiences through swimming lessons would be far behind their peers. This is also obvious.
The report should have said, “We know that swimming lessons ticks many of the boxes of what constitutes good learning. For those who can afford them, there is no reason not to do them. Of course, another reason is that swimming is great fun and you’re much less likely to drown if you are able to swim.”
There is no magic bullet. There is no secret. There is nothing that we as parents and teachers don’t know that hinders the learning experiences of our children and students. When we implement new strategies, programs and technologies it needs to based around what we already know, rather from some secret new finding. We need to call “rubbish” to everyone and anyone who comes bearing the latest educational discovery.
As a friend of mine often says, “we need to stop over thinking it.”
I think we should let Gordon Gano finish this piece:
“I wonder if I’m happy
Wonder if I’m mad
I wonder why the whole wide world is so wonderfully sad
I don’t know bout that but I can tell you this
That when I drink a lot of beer y’know I gotta piss…”
Footnote: It would be remiss for me not to point out the caveat in the report:
“We cannot conclusively claim that swimming is responsible for the differences we have identified in this study. Simply, we can say that children who participate in swimming achieve a wide range of milestones (survey) and skill, knowledge and dispositions (child testing) earlier than the normal population”
Violent Femmes - Lack Of Knowledge