"Each year across the world, kids of roughly the same age are packed into classrooms and confined to desks with the intent of learning from an adult teacher.
But is this how children were adapted to learn?
In today’s technologically dependent, economically complex world in which a particular subset of skills is critical, fact-based knowledge is no doubt best imparted from those with experience—which is usually adults.
But what about social learning? Humans as a species are set apart by their incredible dependence on one another; cooperation is at the heart of both an individual’s survival and a functioning society. So, how do children typically learn to cooperate?
Anthropological research in small-scale societies—including my work among with the Pumé of Venezuela and the Maya living in the Yucatan Peninsula—resoundingly suggests that they learn from one another.
Schooling and growing up in small nuclear families have been the norm for only the past century or so in industrialized societies—just a brief flash in evolutionary time. Childhood in these societies is commonly thought of as a period requiring intense adult investment dedicated to learning and instruction. But research in nonindustrial, small-scale societies—the kinds of communities that all our ancestors lived in both deep in the past and until fairly recently—gives a different picture.
Today children in industrialized societies spend a lot of time in supervised environments with adult direction.