“It is possible to design environments within which the child will be neither frustrated nor hurt, yet free to develop spontaneously and fully without trespassing on others.  I have learned to undertake reform of the environment and not to try to reform humanity.  If we design the environment properly, it will permit children and adults to develop safely and to behave logically.” – – R. Buckminster Fuller, on Education

Note the words “free to develop spontaneously.” [My bold print.] We have to make a big leap in order to get there.  Ready?



It had been a nasty week with the shooting down of the Malaysian airline over Ukraine and the children gunned down on the Gaza strip.  My sister, Jenny, and I were discussing these events as well as the PTSD of our cousin’s son.  “When he was a little boy, he would carefully remove caterpillars from the streets so that cars wouldn’t squash them,” his mom had told us.

We talked about the patriotism often at the root of military action and how the  “love of country” gets tangled with other loving instincts to produce the horrors of war.

Jenny said, “When patriotism overrides what is in the mother’s heart, then the whole world is in trouble.”

May mothers everywhere, continue to raise loving children and may “matriotism” begin to be given equal time.


Today is my mother’s birthday.  She would be 95, if she had not passed away in 2011.

Her beautiful portrait sits next to my computer.  Her kind, wise face inspires and encourages me every day.

When she was about 5 or 6, she built a library in the back of her father’s dog truck.  She spent much of the rest of her life collecting books, magazines, newspaper clippings and printed materials of every kind. I suppose I have a lot of this part of her DNA.  How I treasure the two thousand plus books in my house, surrounded as I am by my “old friends,” exciting new ideas, treasured children’s books, inspirational materials, and enough intellectual stimulation to last ten lifetimes.

Mom’s mind knew no limits.  She was as deeply into the mysteries of quantum physics as she was the glamour of Hollywood personalities.  Furthermore, she always reminded me that every person we meet is like a good book which we haven’t read yet. She could easily and delightedly converse on any subject with any person she ever met, great or small.

I miss you, Mom.  Happy Birthday!


Young children actually learn in bits and pieces. They quickly examine this or that – – like briefly touching the pieces of a puzzle until they perceive a pattern where two or three pieces fit together.

They know what they’re trying to do.  They know what pieces are of greatest interest to them.

If we make them sit still and be under our control, we only thwart and delay their process. They do want us to lay it all out there.  They do want us to understand their enthusiasms and passions;  maybe even share them.

But more than anything, it’s “I do it by myself!”


It was 1971 and I was a graduate student, going for a Masters Degree in Educational Administration and Supervision, absorbing diligently everything put before me about how children learn.

Here I was, young “Crusader Bunny Rabbit” getting ready to go forth against the dark forces of educational complacency.  Armed with this solid information, I was sure I could win any battle.

Despite the gray and cold winter days and boring classes, I was very happy to find out that so many learned men had very carefully and patiently researched the subject of how learning takes place, and had found scientific proof of “theories” that seemed like common sense to me.

First, there was James Jerome Gibson with his “Affordance Theory.”  [“Affordance” was a fancy word he used for “clues.”] What he proved was that good design of the learning environment makes the clues explicit.  [Seemed pretty self-evident to me, but I guess somebody had to study and prove the idea.]

Then there was John Watson, Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner who discovered that all behavior is caused by external stimuli.  [“Does a boring teacher and a more boring text book count as external stimuli,” I wondered.]

When Noam Chomsky and Jerome Bruner found out that the human brain is like a computer, I felt sure schools would surely catch on to the vast potential there. [Wrong!]

Albert Bandura presented his Social Learning Theory – – the idea that people learn from each other.  [Do cafeteria and recess help when that’s the only time kids get to socialize?]

Bernard Weiner was trying to get down to brass tacks when he articulated his “Attribution Theory.”  He asked the sensible question “Why do people do what they do?” [Here was  a great piece of wisdom from the universe:  mainly for their own darn good reasons.]

Then came Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers who expounded “Humanism” and said that learning is a personal act to fulfill one’s potential.  [Ah, there was that wonderful word “potential!”  Surely they were on the right track.]  For this they found that three things were needed:  1. A supportive environment, 2. Freedom [ah, another marvelous word] and 3. Respect.

John Dewey revealed evidence for his “Experience Theory.”  [Now we’re talking!] He believed he had discovered that children learn better if it is truly part of living experience. [Now how could anyone argue with that?]

Lev Vygotski brought forth his “Conversive Theory” and showed solid evidence that conversation plays a crucial role in learning.  [What? Conversation? Did he mean that kids should be allowed to actually talk in the classroom?]

Finally, I learned that Paulo Freire with his “Learner Initiative Theory” actually had the audacity to say that children learn better if truly in charge of their own learning processes.  [What? The kids, not the teacher in charge?]

One day, after I had braved a winter storm for the 45-mile drive to get there, class was canceled and I got a chance for a chat with my favorite professor, Dr. Harry Boyd, a World War II survivor who had been tortured and still bore the deformed evidence just below his rib cage. This tall, still very handsome gentleman was a truth-teller and could be trusted.  We walked together to the parking lot and I said, “Dr. Boyd, with all this evidence now available about how children learn, and their amazing potential, wouldn’t you agree that it’s about time for major reforms of our school systems?” He stopped, turned and looked at me kindly, his blue eyes as deep as the deep blue sea and his white hair as white as the snow falling all around us.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, Brenda,” he said quietly, “but the school systems are not interested in the human potential for learning, they are interested in control.”

Suddenly, I felt just like I had when I had learned the hard truth about  Santa Claus. It was a very long drive back home.