Learning without Teaching? No Schools in Uscolia?
Gabriel Lanyi sent me an email asking if I wanted to review his book Uscolia about learning without teaching. It intrigued me. Although Uscolia, sounded too idealistic to be true, I wanted the story of child prodigies to be real.
I taught school. It’s what I did. A land with no teaching is a land without me. As a teacher, I can’t accept that. However, a community in which teachers and children create and direct their learning, that sounded like the kind of teaching I love.
The Educational Theory Behind Uscolia
The book blurb called Uscolia “the story of an extraordinary journey to the legendary island of native fluency and learning without teaching.”
The narrated story sounded a little far-fetched, but based on what I know about learning and language, the theories sounded plausible and worth consideration. I thought that maybe in this circumstance legendary could mean extraordinary or fabulous rather than a mythical legend. I wanted to visit Uscolia. The narrator, Ben, reached Uscolia by windsurfing.
“I could go out (windsurfing in the Pacific Ocean) in a business suit, holding a briefcase, and not wet the cuffs of my trousers,” answered Ben. This had to be seen to be believed, so a wager was made for a hundred dollars, and half an hour later Ben appeared on the beach in a navy blue, herringbone suit on top of a white shirt with silver cufflinks and a silver buff solid tie.”
Lanyi, Gabriel. Uscolia: Learning without Teaching (p. 4). Sycorax Books. Kindle Edition.
Great Way to Explain Educational Theory
When Ben lost his way off the coast of Washington, tired and wet, he ended up in Uscolia reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels except that the people were reasonable sizes for their ages. In vain, I scoured a map of the Pacific Rim National Reserve in Canada to find Uscolia. The author, Gabriel Lanyi did an expert job of expounding on an educational theory by having the adventurous Ben tell the story of finding this mysterious island and describing what he found there.
“Then he leaned back in the easy chair and began to tell in an even voice the story of a weekend spent in Neah Bay, on the northwestern tip of Washington State, with three entrepreneurs, closing a deal for a venture capital firm in Seattle. (p. 4).
However, I still got a sleepy as Ben narrated. Maybe it was the bedtime child in me and his even voice.
I wanted to argue with Ben at times. But he was too smug, and he’d been there. He only described what he saw. Who was I to argue with what he saw? For example, there were experts on the island who visited children in the labs. It sounded fantastic to have babies learning calculus, music, art on their own.
All classrooms are labs, Ben, some good some bad. Uscolian labs were above the standard class. They were not age specific.
These experts are teachers, Ben. I don’t care what you say; they are teaching. Parents teach their children how to speak. Children don’t just pick it up. I was kind of amazed that the Uscolians donated their time so freely. Didn’t anyone work? What if no child wanted to play their games when they came? I had lots of questions for Ben that he did not have time to answer.
Would You Drop Your Kids Off ANYWHERE and Not Come Back for a Month?
Parents who drop off their children for an hour and pick them up a month later seemed unlikely at best. When I was twenty-nine, I worked for three weeks in a pre-school with babies to two-year-olds. They don’t want to listen to a story for two minutes. They play blocks for three minutes then someone knocks over their tower and make them cry. We “non-teachers” distracted them and took them outside to swing. That had lasted about one minute before someone started whining to come in and paint. Soon they are all whined and wanted to come back in and paint.
I was exhausted at the end end of the day. I wanted a nap. By fifteen minutes past closing, if the parents had not arrived, I began to hunt them down by phone. If they were a half hour late, I called my manager. When they dallied an hour, I wanted to drive the children home and drop them off – parents or no parents! (I did not do it, BTW.) Instead, I quit the job after three weeks of late parents.
The logistics of Uscolia escaped me. Preschool teachers spend a lot of time helping the kids explore, modeling and playing with the kids. It’s what they do. It’s what parents do. But when you put them together with other children – all ages or not to let them work together at something of their choosing, they fight – not always, but occasionally. Uscolia kids only produced. USColia children did not have time to fight or misbehave.
Would Gabriel’s Uscolian Principles Work In Real Life?
Gabriel has the name of an angel, and I wanted the story to work, so I stuck it out and kept reading.
I wished I had a baby on whom to practice these theories. Not that I wanted a pile of garbage in my house while kids invented a large garbage sorter in my living room. Teachers all want to help mold young children who preferred to perform an original play on stage with professional props created by two to ten-year-olds. Furthermore, I can’t imagine a world in which kids had the patience to practice geometry, build theoretical models.
My Uscolian Preschool Years
When I grew up, our house was a lab of sorts. Especially relevant, music was in our house. To begin, my mother was a conservatively liberal-minded pre-school teacher mom. Somewhat of a prodigy, she became the church pianist at twelve years old. In addition, my brother taught me how to sing when he was a year and a half, and I was three and a half. Consequently, we sang “Oh My Darling Clementine, and I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Another Uscolian example from my childhood, I played “Three Blind Mice” on the piano by ear, when I could barely touch the keys. Maybe I was seven or nine months old. As a result, give me any keyboard, and I can still play it, and I can read the notes, too. Unfortunately, all Mom’s piano students passed me up in ability as I reached double digits in age.
But we did childish things as children. Freely with experts on hand if we wanted them. However, we didn’t usually want their input. Sure, we learned but unfortunately, we did not become virtuosos. What happened? Although I wanted to learn, I never played the piano well enough to do anything but embarrass myself and my husband.
Lanyi might argue it was because we then went to school and our natural learning stopped. He could be right. Yet, possibly we childishly lost interest in the topic before we had our 10,000 hours completed. However, this review is about Lanyi’s book, Uscolia, not about my childhood. It just made me think about my upbringing and my career teaching.
What About Lanyi’s Uscolian Lab?
At the end of the long narrative about a trip to Uscolia, Gabriel Lanyi began his story. Subsequently, he and his wife applied the principles of Uscolia as best they could to his only child. Lanyi wanted to raise a musician. From birth, he exposed his son Ariel to music in much the same way we expose all children to native language.
“I remember the first time he heard a live orchestra. It was a children’s concert, where some speaking would have been tolerated, but for good measure we sat in the last row, by the exit. Our son, who was around one year old, was sitting on my knees, calmly sipping his juice from a bottle during tuning and the applause for the conductor. When the orchestra struck up the first notes of Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons he almost jumped out of my lap. His mouth was agape and he was completely mesmerized by the sound. His attention didn’t flag for a second throughout the entire movement.” (pp. 159-160)
Now Gabriel had my attention!
Lanyi described the “small changes we made in the way of doing things, to reflect Uscolian ideals, have produced a sea change in our lives. It happened in two ways. One was immediate and material, the result of upgrading our habitat through small adjustments in the composition and arrangement of the physical objects that surrounded us to accommodate the baby’s needs. The other was mental, and it continues to this day.
It started with bringing our skills up to date and refreshing our store of knowledge to be able to solve problems, answer questions, and serve as informants and objects of observation. Later, as our child began developing various interests, and as we followed them up, we ventured into areas of knowledge where we had never dreamed of roaming. In trying to reproduce for the growing child some of the qualities of Uscolian studios, we may have created a studio for ourselves, in which we discovered a store of unexpected extravagant artefacts.” (pp. 161-162).
As Gabriel Lanyi completed the story of bringing up his son, I fell in love with Uscolia. Parenting sounded fun the way I dreamed it would be. The video of his son playing in Paris makes a strong sales pitch for the principles of Uscolia.
Biography on Amazon
Gabriel Lanyi is a writer living in Jerusalem. Early on he was booked as a passenger on a multilingual educational journey across three continents, which began in Romania, continued in Israel, and ended in the US. Eventually, he got off at the juncture of liberal arts and high-tech, where he set up shop as a writer slash editor slash translator of technical and academic literature, with occasional forays into fiction. All along, he continued to watch with fascination the itineraries our education systems devised for the younger generations, and every now and then inflicted his own teaching on unsuspecting students. …
So don’t wait a moment longer, if you want to try out his principles. Order his book Uscolia and have some fun with your kids.
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