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All children "can" learn or "will" learn? 

I heard the well-intentioned suggestion that educators should use as a guiding statement/principle/motto "All children will learn" rather than "All children can learn."

And I've been thinking about that.

I've always thought the statement "All children can learn" to be simplistic and obvious. All children DO learn by nature since learning is a means to empowerment and it's human nature to want to become more powerful. Now they may not learn what we want to teach or in ways we like to teach, but all humans do learn.

"All children will learn" sounds rather threatening to my ears. (Say it with a German accent and imagine a military officer with riding crop and monocle saying it.) It's also pretty easy to turn the statement snarky by adding "to avoid punishment. Or "to find school irrelevant." Or "to cheat on homework." You get the idea.

How about a more aspirational statement if one feels such a thing is needed for professional motivation? My vote goes to something like "All children will love to learn." That's a statement I can get behind.

While waxing philosophical this cold Sunday morning, I thought I'd update my "Little List of Library and Technology Laws". Here are a few new ones...

Johnson's Library Mission: To get back overdue readers, not overdue books.

Johnson's Observation About Public Speaking: You're never bored when you are the one doing the talking.

Johnson's Rule of Technology Reliability: It's better to have one computer that works all the time than two computers that work 50% of the time.

Johnson's Question About Fairness: If the cure only works for 80% should we withhold it out of fairness to the other 20%?

Johnson's Observation About Office Climate: If the supervisor ain't having fun, nobody's having fun.

Johnson's Rule of Sincerity: Compliments are always more sincere when accompanied by a box of doughnuts.

Johnson's Rule on Coasting: Complacency is dangerous both in love and technology.

Johnson's Rule of Creativity in the Workplace and Classroom: You can't suppress it so you may as well channel it.

Johnson's Disclaimer: Anything I've said that you don't like, you've obviously misinterpreted.

Johnson's Law of Literacy: If one can read but is not changed by reading, why bother?

Johnson's Rule of Indispensability: If your job is eliminated, your boss should really, really come to regret it.

Johnson's Rules for Spreading Manure: 1) Always check which way the wind is blowing 2) Never lick your finger to find out.

Johnson's Technology Formula: T - t = 0 (Technology without training is a paperweight.)

Johnson's Moral Imperative: Subversion in the creation of a good school is not a vice.

Johnson's Rule of Technology Perspective: Every tech problem is a big tech problem to the person experiencing it.

Johnson's Experience in Assigning Tasks: You may as well give unpleasant jobs to people who are already unhappy.

Add your own laws!

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Reader Comments (3)

All children can/will learn... what?

One of the assumptions in the mission statements containing these lines is that all children will learn the same thing, at the same time in their lives, to the same level. And we rarely ask them what they want to learn, what's important to them.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTim Stahmer

At the risk of going maudlin on you, I'll offer that not only can we dispense with the auxiliary verb and go with "Children learn," we can go global and make it "We learn."

We are all always learning. Educators are concerned about student learning, but what are we learning consequent to our experience and student feedback? If we think we've come to the end of our need for learning, does that mean we've learned we'd rather be lazy? We've definitely learned something, and the stuff we forget gets replaced with new learning. Standing in the presence of students and knowing what stuff is becoming today's you and me is the educator's task.

Unlike Trix, "Metacognition" and "life-long learning" aren't just for kids.

January 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

Hi Tim,

And learn in the same way as well. The message is well-intended, I think, but is pretty simplistic.

Thanks! Hoping Mumbai is warmer than the Midwest. This is our second day of school closed for temp - although I went to work.

Take care,


Hi Bill,

Good point. I learn all the time whether I want to or not. School of hard knocks mostly!

If we want to get even more maudlin, I think we can ask that even if one learns, does one grow as a result? I don't always learn (the first time anyway) from the hard knock lessons and I also seem to accumulate a heck of a lot of worthless trivia.

Thanks for response,


January 7, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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