Debate Magazine

What We Can Learn from Indigenous Elders Who Can’t Count Past Two (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

In his awesome book Savages, writer Joe Kane documents his experience living in the Ecuadorian rain forest with a group of indigenous people called the Huaorani. Kane writes about their struggle to maintain their way of life against the pressure of oil companies, who relentlessly attempt to push them off their land. In one passage, Kane noted that the oil companies’ efforts to just buy the land failed because money held no meaning to Huaorani elders, many of whom couldn’t count past two.

By the end of the book, I understood why they couldn’t count past two. According to the Huaorani worldview, the things they encountered in the rainforest were seen not in aggregate, but each as a unique living creature. In the natural world, no two things are exactly alike.

* * *

Here’s an excerpt from John Medina’s book Brain Rules:

“You cannot change the fact that the human brain is individually wired. Every student’s brain, every employee’s brain, every customer’s brain, is wired differently. That’s the Brain Rule. You can either accede to it or ignore it. The current system of education chooses the latter, to our detriment. It needs to be torn down and newly envisioned, in a Manhattan Project-size commitment to individualizing education.”

* * *

We need to build new educational environments that view kids not in the aggregate, but each as a unique learner. So instead of seeing 30 kids in my classroom, I see one Lorraine, one Marie, one Dylan, one Carson, one Rebecca . . .

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