The natural order of things

When as a child and I was taught all seemingly solid things were made up of many far smaller parts, whirling around each other, my first instinct was to laugh. How silly! I could feel these solid things, light couldn’t pass through them; I could see their shadows. How could this be the truth?

Then one teacher took the time to tell us how some old Egyptian (with a functioning brain), had worked out the movement of the sun, by watching how the light only hit the bottom of a well at a particular time of the year, and then crept away over the months, making an angular shadow across the well, until it was at the stage of the most shade, then back again. That was how he worked out the angle of the sun in relation to the earth is variable (within some pretty predictable limits).

That was when I fell in love with the minds that can investigate the mundane around us, that others just take for granted, and discover what makes things happen, how they are made up etc.

So when I discovered magnets, how some things will try to stick together, and others repel each other, I began to believe that maybe the silly story wasn’t so silly. Maybe it was true –  things being made up of smaller whirling pieces, some of which liked each other so much they got in really close and made denser and heavier stuff, and how some just flirted and made lighter or more fluid stuff.

No doubt the teacher was relieved. Having a child who look at you ‘funny’ when you spout what you have to tell them may be a bit disconcerting. Maybe she didn’t ever notice either look?


Talking to a friend the other day about education,( we do that a lot these days don’t we all)  I realised that the WAY children are taught often doesn’t match the way humanity discovered these things.

Telling me about atoms wasn’t enough; I was sceptical enough to want someone to prove it to me.

Maybe rather than just telling children the final or most recent findings, shouldn’t children be taught HOW we came to discover these things, and lead them along the thought path so that they too can admire HOW we found out WHAT we think we know. When you “know intellectually” and “know emotionally”, then knowledge sticks.

That way there will be more people capable of thinking for themselves, and maybe some of them will discover any flaws in how we have thought and discovered, and the conclusions drawn.

So I propose we teach children, according to the natural order of things, about how we got to know what we know. Not just what we know. For example, how we discovered mathematical relationships and functions. Geometry out in the sand with a few sticks and pieces of string can create a mathematical thinker far quicker than teaching them how to calculate, purely by rote.

Things you learned by doing them, then reading and discussing them and trying them out on paper, those are the ones that stick. Very few people can learn just by hearing someone talk and draw abstract pictures on a board.


So why don’t we teach children in the same ‘natural order’ that things were discovered by humans?


11 thoughts on “The natural order of things

  1. How right you are, Sidey!!! People who learn things ‘off by heart’ never really understand anything. You actually need to have some understanding of the why’s and wherefore’s before you will remember what you have learnt. It’s like people believing anything ‘because it says so in the paper or on TV’, or whatever’. Many people, including some educationalists, do not understand this. And when you have teachers who don’t understand what they are teaching then the problem only gets compounded.

  2. As I work in the education field here in Alberta, Canada (I’m and Ed. Asst. working with Special Needs students in Junior High) I agree with you wholeheartedly. The problem, as I see it is: young teachers fresh out of school get this concept you’re talking about and many try very hard to teach that way. The problem comes from stick in the mud administration and politicians. There is A curriculum and it is to be taught THIS way. Any other way could lead to complaints,and/or lawsuits due to violations of someone’s religious, ethical, moral, sexual, cultural, etc., etc., rights.
    We’ve become a ridiculously politically correct global society. It stymies individual and truly creative daily thought.
    Remember 1984? Can you say Big Brother?
    Have a good weekend and thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    1. What a refreshing comment. I hate the way all laterial thinking is quashed – well, most of the time! By the time students are at university their brains are not as enquiring as they may have been.

  3. Children understand far more than most people give them credit for. Reading you, I wondered at the similarity between, on the one hand, teaching scientific facts but not the process behind them, and on the other, teaching religious so-called facts that can’t be proven. Perhaps if we started consistently teaching how we came to know the earth is round (for instance), children would also demand to know how we came to know god is, and god is Jesus or the Christian god (as opposed to Mohammed, etc).

    1. children have such open minds, we could help them to learn to think, question, assess and evaluate instead of taking things as so just because someone said so.

      something you have thought out for yourself, and understood remains with you for ever

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