André Stern: “Children learn because they are enthusiastic, and they do not differentiate between playing and learning”

Musician, lecturer, writer, journalist and father of two children, Antonin and Benjamin, André Stern (1971) believes that enthusiasm makes us capable of anything, “that frees us from our limits.” And that it is in childhood the stage in which adult expectations and the accepted hierarchy of disciplines and professions, according to Stern, ends up stifling that innate enthusiasm that we all have and that is what leads us to be who we want to be. To do what we want to do. This is how he tells it in Enthusiasm (Litera), a book that is actually a journey to a childhood that hardly fits in a world made to measure for adults. Son of researcher and pedagogue Arno Stern, André did not go to school. He says that this and the accompaniment of his family allowed him to experiment and develop his abilities through self-learning.

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QUESTION: How would you define what enthusiasm is?

ANSWER: I would define enthusiasm as a force that gives us wings, that gives us energy to move mountains, that frees us from our imposed limits. All children have that strength, it is there from the beginning, and that allows them to discover the world. It should not be limited to childhood, but should accompany us throughout life.

P. What are the “side effects” of enthusiasm? What happens when we let it manifest?

R. When we are excited about something, we collect information and become more and more experts and more competent in what we are passionate about. The first side effect of enthusiasm is competition: if we are competent there will be people who will need us regardless of our qualification.

P. We confuse enthusiasm with happiness …

R. We feel enthusiasm when we feel happiness and we feel happiness when we feel enthusiasm. However, it is true that enthusiasm can lead us to go through moments that are not happy. Our children show it to us when they make incredible efforts, such as climbing a wall, picking up a very heavy ball or moving things with energy: they would not be able to do it, but they have that capacity for effort because they have that enthusiasm and that is precisely the difference between the happiness and enthusiasm.

P. He states that enthusiasm is the key to learning, but he also warns that there is no “method”, that it is more about an attitude and not a methodology.

R. For children, being enthusiastic is their way of being in the world. They have the need to look for that genius that is inside them and that in turn will be the genius that will lead them to be useful in this world. For them there are no hierarchies between professions or disciplines. They can get excited about the trade of an astronaut as well as the trade of a street sweeper. We adults are the ones who permanently establish hierarchies, we who tell them that one subject or another is more important. What if we thought that learning to read is no more important than learning to dance?

P. What do boys and girls need to awaken what excites them?

R. It’s hard for me to say “what children need” because I don’t think there is a difference between what an adult needs and what a child needs. For example, if there are bad words for a child, then they will also be bad words for an adult to say. To say that children need something is arrogance because then we are discriminating against them, placing them in another place, and this is an invisible evil in our society: ageism. I believe that children do not exist: there is a child at a given moment and a person behind him whose needs are changing. The moment we have made a category of children, it becomes dominated by the category of adults, who attribute to themselves the ability to know what the child needs. It is the same story as that of the patriarch: the male category that decides what the woman needs. It is the same discrimination.

P. I find the question of ageism very interesting. How does this influence enthusiasm?

R. Ageism is everywhere, but we don’t see it. We do not take children seriously, and we do not take seriously something they do – and which is very important – which is play. They learn because they are excited, and they do not differentiate between playing and learning. It is we, adults, who have not only separated play and learning, but also have positioned both actions as opposites. We think that they will pass when they are older, that play and enthusiasm are childhood defects.

P. He explains in the book that in our societies learning becomes painful because the game has little or no presence. We ask children to stop playing to “learn”, despite the fact that, as he says, they are inseparable.

R. When we ask children to stop playing to learn, they lose their enthusiasm. We adults have considered that learning is an effort, that learning is something serious, and we have to separate it from play because it is an attitude of pleasure.

Our brain is not made to learn by heart. We have confused learning and learning by heart. Learning by rote does not work because our brain is not made for it, the brain solves problems when we seek to solve a problem. When the information reaches us, if it is useful, then we memorize it and that is when the emotional center is activated and we can save that information. All the people in this world forget 80% of things, they retain 20%, which are the things that have come to us through emotions. And I return to the game: the game is an activity that ignites our emotional system, that is why our children are so interested in playing because games allow them to retain information forever.

‘Enthusiasm’, a book on how to nurture capacities during childhood from example and trust.

P. Why don’t we trust the abilities of children?

R. Because asserting the capacities of children is to question all the pedagogy that exists around childhood. Trusting a child, in his abilities, allows him to function with greater ease and develop his skills. We focus on getting him to get good grades in school to have a good job so he can earn a lot of money, but we stifle his enthusiasm.

P. How we combine this in real life.

R. If we give the child confidence, and let him live his enthusiasm, the child has no problem with the indications that the most experienced people will give you. Children today assume a huge amount of no’s because they live in an ocean of denials in which very few things are allowed. For example, my son trusts me because he knows that I would never let him embark on a dangerous adventure, but I do show him confidence to do what his abilities allow. Antonin really likes to drive small cars, much to my regret, as I think it is a sport that carries a lot of risk. Being aware of this danger and respecting all safety regulations is part of your enthusiasm and the development of your skills.

P. He says in the book that following our enthusiasm is not a luxury reserved for a few privileged few who can afford it. “There is nothing that can resist our enthusiasm. No circumstance, neither material nor moral, can oppose our prodigious inventiveness for long, when we decide to make possible what excites us ”.

R. I think that thinking that enthusiasm is an unattainable luxury is an excuse we use for not going in search of what excites us. Living thinking that you will not be able to do what you like is living in disappointment. I like to think that throughout history there were people who were enthusiastic about something and although they were told they were crazy, today they are the ones who are there as great characters. They told them that they were very difficult, impossible roads, and today we would like to get where they have arrived.

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