Active Learning of Practical Skills

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” __ Yogi Berra, Albert Einstein, Others

The young human mind is predisposed to learning practical skills

First the child must learn how to eat, see, touch, move, walk, talk, and how to get what it needs. We are given many instincts early in life which assist us in perfecting these practical skills. Many of these instincts are “invisible,” and others are apparent from birth. The “primal cry” at birth is a good example of a healthy instinct.

One of the first practical skills a child must learn is how to suck:

Sucking as a practical skill: A Life or Death Matter

Practical Learning Keeps Children Alive

Practical Avoidance: Learning to avoid dangers such as fire, high places, deep water, edgy-looking strangers, and other hazards of life can keep babies and toddlers alive.

Active Practical Skills: Learning to safely manage fire, learning safe climbing, learning to swim, and learning to manage difficult people can keep older children and youth alive.

The point is that children are predisposed to practical learning, and it is unfortunate that our schools have spurned practical learning in favour of passive rote learning.

Why Schools Chose Passive Learning

Didactic teachers of the passive style of learning can prepare a lesson plan for any number of students, and re-use the same lesson plan over and over. Boys who are unruly can be medicated with drugs, allowing a large amount of material to be presented in the specified time frame.

Teachers of practical methods of active learning must flexibly shape each session to be responsive to the individual students who are present. This approach means that less material can be covered in any given time period. It also places a larger burden on teachers in terms of background knowledge, ability to improvise, and social skills.

A third approach is “independent learning” which incorporates a lot of self-teaching. We see a lot of this in Montessori schools, the Robinson Curriculum, and the Dangerous Child curriculum. The self-teaching approach utilises the natural affinity of young children toward practical skills and competencies.

Children Retain Practical Skills

It is rare for a child to have to re-learn how to walk or talk, once these skills are mastered. The same is true for riding a bicycle — as many adults can confirm after re-riding a bicycle after many years without having ridden. Once children can go through an active sequence of performing a skill — and receive the positive reward that tends to accompany the successful performing of the skill — their brains will tend to become more efficient at that skill with repetition. Such skills tend to be retained.

That type of learning — which is the same type of learning as in habit formation — tends to be almost automatic in childhood. Given how effective that type of learning has proven to be, we might think that parents and schools should emphasise that approach to learning for as long as it proves productive.

It is then difficult to defend the premature leap to “passive” teaching styles in conventional approaches to school. The young mind is begging to learn practical skills and habits that would make it more independently effective, while elitist educational systems are using didactic methods to indoctrinate young minds into groupthink.

Learning Requires a Scaffolding

Actually, learning requires several different scaffoldings, one after another in series. The first scaffolding for learning is innate instinct. Early learning built upon instinct provides a scaffolding for later learning that incorporates more cross-ties with related learning. This more sophisticated learning is then used as scaffolding for more sophisticated learning that begins to incorporate more abstract and second-hand knowledge. And so on . . .

Montessori Learning

Almost a hundred years ago, Maria Montessori developed an “active learning method” that is still wildly popular today. At Montessori schools, children are encouraged to explore — either independently or cooperatively with other children. By learning actively to explore areas of interest, the child engages his own built-in method of strong learning and long retention.

Another school of teaching that uses the active style of learning is the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf School.

Yet another active-learning approach to schooling is the Forest School.

These are all early childhood approaches to schooling, but the methods could easily be employed throughout the grammar school years — particularly in the education of boys, but also for girls.

Dangerous Childhood Training

Early design for the Dangerous Child © curriculum was loosely based upon the John David Garcia curriculum (more here). This type of curriculum is best presented in combination with a “forest school” environment.

As this curriculum evolved, it retained the John David Garcia elements but also incorporated elements from other alternative educational approaches. A lot of practical financial, occupational, and business skills learning was added for teens, to be sure that 18 year olds would be capable of supporting themselves financially.

Other core learning curricula — such as the Robinson Curriculum — can also be utilised. The central elements for all Dangerous Child training include the hands-on practical approach plus the self-teaching approach.

Some high schools provide high quality vocational training, but most Dangerous Children need to seek out mentors by the age of 14, to provide apprentice-style skills training wherever parents or other family members are unable to provide such training.

Practical Skills Mastery Gives Confidence

Being able to support oneself financially three different ways by the age of 18, is a huge confidence booster. That is only possible when a youth has mastered practical skills of various types — skills that are of value to a wide range of employers in the marketplace, and skills that allow a young person to start their own rapidly profitable business.

More abstract and theoretical skills can always be added to the Dangerous Child’s repertoire of skills and knowledge. Youth and young adults who have already experimented with several ways of making a living — and who have mastered at least three — are in a better position economically and cognitively to pursue further educational goals.


Active vs Passive Learning

Early Childhood Education

Albert Bandura

John David Garcia

Remember, practical knowledge incorporates theoretical knowledge. And theoretical knowledge is always built on practical knowledge — whether the learner understands this or not. The combination provides strong scaffolding for further learning in the future, incorporating all forms of learning including self-teaching.

The world of “future work” will include a lot more certification-style accreditation, with less emphasis on degrees if the actual competencies and skills can be demonstrated. In such contexts, the ability to self-teach — learned at an early age in the Robinson Curriculum and the Dangerous Child curriculum — is of great value.

John David Garcia Curriculum I

This portion of the John David Garcia curriculum was conceived for age 6 to age 7, with a highly intelligent and highly motivated child in mind.

Original source

Physical Biological
Physical Theory Physical Practice Biological Theory Biological Practice
4.00 6.00 The concept of the wheel;
smelting metal from ore;
making a simple calendar
from astronomical
observations; counting and
use of Arabic numbers to
1,000 for calendar making,
time-keeping, and other
Making a potter’s wheel
and using it; making an
advanced bellows driven
by a pedaled wheel to heat
a charcoal, earth, and clay
oven; making a spinning
wheel, a sundial, a simple
Advanced gardening; the
making of cloth from plant
and animal fiber; advanced
care and management of
sheep and goats; gourmet
cooking with spices and
herbs using ovens; making
more advanced permanent
shelters of wood and stone
Spinning fiber; simple
weaving of cloth with no
loom; wheat and corn
cultivation; making bread
with & without yeast;
breeding sheep and goats
with seasons; training
dogs; constructing small
stone and wood huts
4.25 6.25 More advanced metallurgy;
the saw and how to use it;
how to cast bronze tools,
nails, the chisel, and metal
hammer; advanced use of
wheels; simple arithmetic;
adding and subtraction
with Arabic numbers;
simple geometry
Construction of wheeled
push carts; construct
bronze tools and show how
inferior they are to steel
tools; use steel tools in all
construction; use pick and
shovel and push cart to
build small irrigation
system and buildings;
show how arithmetic and
simple geometry help
construct these projects
Group design of large
irrigated garden, suitable
for self-sufficiency of 16
persons; advanced looms
and weaving; advanced
animal husbandry and
selective breeding of sheep
and goats; care of chickens
and cattle
Construct and plant
garden; advanced cooking
and preserving of food;
fermentation to produce
alcohol, distillation of
alcohol with copper still
4.50 6.50 Advanced bronze-based
metallurgy and smelting of
other similar metals;
identify related ores and
other rocks; simple glass
technology; building an
oxcart from wood, leather,
and bronze; simple
multiplication with Arabic
numbers; more simple
geometry, right triangles,
and the circle; advanced
calendar-making & time-keeping; how to make a
simple boat with sail and
Smelt and cast advanced
bronzes and similar
metals; make and cast
glass sheets; make mirrors
of metal and glass; build
an oxcart; show how
arithmetic and geometry
are useful; use detailed
astronomical observations
to make a better calendar,
and show how arithmetic
and geometry help; build a
small sailing and rowing
Show how to use a simple
plow and fertilizer to
prepare land; show how to
make fertilizer from
minerals and organic
substances; show how to
cross-pollinate and
hybridize plants and trees;
show how to use advanced
fermentation techniques to
produce wine and alcohol;
discuss effects of alcohol
as preservative and drug;
storage and preservation of
Advanced agriculture and
gardening projects; make
fertilizers, crossbreed and
hybridize plants; grow
grain and grapes; ferment
to alcohol, distill alcohol,
use alcohol as a fuel and
preservative, use as
disinfectant; cultivation of
yeasts, and advanced
4.75 6.75 More advanced arithmetic
and geometry, division of
numbers, simple fractions;
creation of more advanced
sailing craft, the ideas
behind a horse-drawn war
chariot, the compound bow
with metal-tipped arrows,
how to construct the two-person war chariot and its
relationship to the oxcart;
the Babylonian abacus
Show how arithmetic and
geometry contribute to
following technologies
built by groups; build a
more advanced sailing
craft; build a war chariot
using steel, wood, and
leather; show how much
more difficult it was with
only bronze; build
compound bow with
bronze-tipped arrows;
practice with bow until
expert, and practice with
war chariot
Domestication and use of
the horse as a biological
machine, special care and
breeding required by horse,
horse behavior and
anatomy, equipment for
controlling horse and how
to make it
Horse training and use for
farming and pulling
chariots, speed
comparisons, training
horse for chariots and
bareback riding

Psychosocial Integration
Psychosocial Theory Pyschosocial Practice Integrative Theory Integrative Practice
4.00 6.00 Reading stories in personal
terms about the possible
prehistory of the Sumerian
people; vocabulary
development and the
practical use of grammar
Write stories of fiction and
personal activity using
only alphabet; show how
convenient it is to know
when a sentence starts and
ends, and how punctuation
prevents misunderstanding
The ethics of larger
groups; how it is possible
for several octets to
cooperate if they have
common rules and
objectives; how ancient
civilizations were slave-based and ruled by priestly
Students construct rules
and goals of cooperative
behavior in order to build
large-scale projects,
buildings, irrigation
systems to benefit
hundreds of persons
4.25 6.25 Realistic but fictionalized
history of the founding of
Sumer and how Sumerians
created their culture up to
the time of the invention of
writing; show how the
religion and its ritual
became overwhelmingly
important, and how by
controlling food the priests
controlled people, warriors,
and kings
Write stories of fiction and
personal activity; write
essays on behavioral
ethics; use proper
punctuation for clarity of
ideas and teach correct
punctuation for students;
have students ethically
analyze in writing the
history of Sumer and show
what might be wrong
The ethics of individual
rights; show that taking
rights away from
individuals for a larger
group damages the group it
is supposed to help; show
how creativity is important
to progress and how liberty
is important for creativity
Students study Sumerian
art and try to express their
own feeling about Sumer
in ceramic figurines similar
to the Sumerians; stone
sculpture project;
reproduction of Sumerian
relics and artifacts
4.50 6.50 Read a simple non-fictional history of Sumer,
show their writing and
accounting systems and
note their defects; show
how clay as prime resource
led to cuneiform;
endurance of clay records;
read full accounts of
Sumerian myths, including
Garden of Eden;
Gilgamesh, and Noah
Write an analysis of
Sumerians’ history and
their collapse; write an
analysis of their myths and
what they mean; write your
own myths to communicate
the same ideas as the
Sumerian myths; write a
creative story of your own
Ethical analysis of the rise
and fall of Sumer, the
ethical nature of the
conquerors of Sumer, their
strengths and weaknesses,
the weakness of theocracy
and hereditary aristocracy,
why these entropic systems
went on for so long
Creative synthesis; high
Sumerian art compared to
art of conquerors; artistic
group project to
communicate the rise and
fall of Sumer through
music, painting, sculpture,
and dance
4.75 6.75 Read a simple world
history of the Ecumene
from the fall of Sumer to
600 BC; show how little
progress and creativity
there was until then; show
how Aryans spread
Sumerian civilization to
the entire old world and
possibly to the Americas;
read literary examples of
each major culture
Write an ethical analysis of
each major culture and why
they could not significantly
improve on Sumerian
civilization; write an
analysis and interpretation
of their literary works;
write your own story to
express what you feel
about this period of history
An ethical analysis of the
Sumerian religion and
those that followed; show
how ethical vitality in
primitive cultures can lead
to conquest of more
advanced civilizations;
show how religions that
seek reward for ethical
behavior are destructive;
show how it was necessary
to invent morality
The art forms of Babylon,
Egypt, Crete, pre-Confucianist China, and
India; make your own
version of these art styles;
improvise music on the
instruments of these times;
do a group art project on
this period of history

The above curriculum excerpt is republished from the John David Garcia book Creative Transformation.

There is a great deal of flexibility in practise, to match the needs, aptitude, and interest of the child.

John David Garcia Curriculum Starting Out

The first stage of the JDG curriculum is aimed at bright and motivated children between the ages of 3 and 6 years. Such children are capable of far more than they are generally given credit.

Physical Biological
Physical Theory Physical Practice Biological Theory Biological Practice
1.00 3.00 Cause and effect The lever The human body Body care
1.25 3.25 Clubs and poles Modifying trees and
Animal bodies; small
domestic animals
How to care for a pet
1.50 3.50 Different stones and their
Using stones Edible plants and their
Gathering edible plants
and mushrooms
1.75 3.75 Shaping stone Building simple stone tools Edible animals and fish Hunting and fishing
2.00 4.00 Shaping wood with stone Using stone tools to
modifu poles and clubs
Food preparation and
Cleaning and preparing
small game and fish using
bone, wood, and stone
2.25 4.25 Handling fire Use of stone and wood to
control fire, use of fire to
harden spear points
Advanced food preparation Cooking vegetables, fish,
and meat on open fires
2.50 4.50 Advanced fire handling
and control combining
wood and stone tools,
theory and design
Hafted axes and choppers
are made; stone fire
carriers, simple weaving
and knotting of vines and
Elementary tanning and
use of bone, vines, and
vegetable fiber
Skinning animals and fish,
preserving leather,
advanced cooking.
preparing vines and
vegetable fiber
2.75 4.75 The bow and fire-making Making bows and starting
Advanced food
preparation; advanced
tanning and bone work
Advanced cooking; clothes
from animal hides; use of
sinew and thongs; hunting
with dogs
3.00 5.00 The use of clay and the
bow and arrow; design of
simple rafts
Making and baking clay
pots on an open fire;
making and using simple
bows and arrows
Advanced food preparation
including drying, smoking,
& curing; health care
Cooking, drying, and
smoking with clay pots;
preparing and using
medicinal herbs and
3.25 5.25 Advanced paleolithic stone
work of knives and axes;
advanced bow making;
advanced clay work
without wheel; large rafts
Making stone tools to
make other stone tools;
making advanced bows
and arrows; bellows and
advanced pottery; building
a large raft as a group
Gathering seeds and
planting edible plants;
basic first aid
Gardening; preparing soil
and cultivation; practice of
first aid
3.50 5.50 Neolithic tools;
construction of shelters;
advanced counting; how to
make a small dugout canoe
and paddle
Construction of simple
neolithic tools; the use of
tally marks and stored
pebbles; building a small
dugout canoe and paddle
The biological need for
shelter; building of lean-tos and simple teepees;
clothes for extreme cold;
simple agriculture
Construction of lean-tos
and teepees; more
advanced gardening;
making bone needles and a
3.75 5.75 How to construct advanced
neolithic tools and work
stone and wood; more
advanced counting and
Arabic numbers to 10; how
to build a large dugout
Building advanced
neolithic tools; working
wood, simple carpentry,
building semi-permanent
structures; advanced
tallying systems; building a
large dugout canoe
How to make boots and
moccasins from leather and
plant fiber; how to know
when to plant and when to
harvest; taking care of
goats and sheep
Construction of complete
wardrobes of leather, plant,
and animal fiber; more
advanced gardening and
animal husbandry


Psychosocial Theory Pyschosocial Practice Integrative Theory Integrative Practice
1.00 3.00 How to communicate Exchange of information Ethics of personal
Free-form drawing and
painting, simple songs
1.25 3.25 Clubs and poles Repeat same message from
different source
Truth and lying, paleolithic
Free-form drawing and
painting, paleolithic
stories, drums
1.50 3.50 Games of information Teams for sending and
receiving messages
Advantages of cooperating
vs competing; paleolithic
Songs, dancing, drawing,
painting, telling stories
1.75 3.75 Making pictures for
Drawing picture stories Obligations of making
oneself understood
Free-form art, stick-figure
drawing for stories
2.00 4.00 Advanced picture stories Making up stories with
Ethics of separating fact
from fiction; paleolithic
Wood carving and free-form painting; paleolithic
stories created and drawn
2.25 4.25 Picture symbols which
stand for complex events
Team communications
games and “charades”
using picture symbols
The difference between a
symbol and the thing it
symbolizes; paleolithic
Charcoal drawing on bark
and stone; universal
religious symbols; creating
2.50 4.50 Advanced picture symbols
and counting
Making up stories by
stringing together picture
symbols which everyone
can understand
Creation myths of
paleolithic people
Making up creation myths
and testing them
2.75 4.75 Rebus writing combined
with picture writing
Making up stories with
rebus and picture writing
Advanced creation myths
of Native Americans and
some religious beliefs,
Native American art and
what it expresses; free-form art for what students
3.00 5.00 The notion of an alphabet
and sound symbols
Stringing sound symbols
together to make a word
The religions of native
Americans and the
evolutionary ethic
Percussion instruments,
music, carving, dance, and
art to express religious
3.25 5.25 Reading advanced
paleolithic stories with
evolutionary ethical theme
Writing simple stories and
accounts using alphabet,
rebus writing, or pictures
as desired
The importance of
separating truth from
fiction in our writing to
avoid misleading others
Late paleolithic art and
religion; student’s
expression of his own
feelings about them
3.50 5.50 Reading stories and history
of early neolithic life with
evolutionary ethics theme
More writing of stories and
accounts using alphabet,
rebus writing, and pictures
as desired
Simple analysis of
neolithic culture and
religions in light of the
evolutionary ethic
Neolithic art and stone
carving; clay figurines;
self-expression of students
3.75 5.75 Reading more complex
stories of neolithic life
about religion and
creativity in ancient Jericho
and Mesopotamia
More writing of stories and
accounts using alphabet
and rebus writing, but no
pictures, show difficulty of
communicating numerical
concepts over 10
Analysis of why neolithic
culture advanced so slowly
before the beginning of
Sumer; the energy that
went into religious ritual &
the corrupt priestly
The flute and harp and the
neolithic music possible
for them; advanced
neolithic art and religion;
self-expression in all art

The studies and all the activities of the day are integrated so that the child knows what it will be doing and why. Children who wish to follow a different path will be encouraged to do so. After consulting with the child, the home room teachers are obligated to accommodate the elections of each child and try to arrange the child’s day so as to maximize the child’s creativity, keeping the child in safety, and not imposing any activities on the child.

During this period the children are introduced to ethics and why we have an obligation to never do anything to harm anyone, including ourselves, why we should always try to do our best to increase our own creativity and the creativity of everyone with whom we interact. The concept of “creativity” is discussed with all the students, and they give their own opinions on the subject.

The child is introduced in very simple terms to what is creativity and what is harm. The concepts of harm and creativity are discussed by the teachers with all the children in each circle. The children are introduced to the concept of patience, and why we should always wait for our turn. They are taught how to show respect for each other, their teachers, their parents, their siblings, and everyone else.

These lessons are combined with free drawing, painting, and simple songs. The children are taught about the themes they will be studying during the day in physical, biological, psychosocial sciences, as well their integration through ethics, humanities and art. The themes of fire, water, air, earth, the human body, the school, the home, the family, our neighbors, positive and negative emotions, the sun, colors, ego, and ecology are all touched upon and integrated with the sciences, ethics, humanities, and art. This process will continue during all future days of study at SEE, except the discussions shall become more sophisticated and comprehensive. _JDG Lifetime Curriculum

It is important to teach ethics at the same time as one is teaching a child to be competent, conscientious, persistent, and dangerous.

The coming crop of Dangerous Children will be most dangerous to any society that attempts to restrict their freedoms and opportunities unjustly. Sic semper tyrannis.

Note: Al Fin visited John David Garcia at his home in Oregon a number of times — including a three day workshop on “autopoiesis,” attended by roughly 15 other guests. Over the years, most of those who attended JDG workshops were initially attracted by the Garcia curriculum being republished on this blog.

First Al Fin blog to publish this curriculum

Self Confidence and Self Efficacy

The two traits of self-efficacy and self confidence are both useful, and come naturally to the Dangerous Child due to his training and experience.

Self Efficacy

Albert Bandura is arguably the most cited author on the subject of self-efficacy, and he defines self-efficacy as an individual’s beliefs about their capacity to influence the events in their own lives (Bandura, 1977). __

Self-efficacy is closely related to one type of self confidence — confidence in one’s ability to deal with situations as they arise:

… Psychology Dictionary Online defines self-confidence as an individual’s trust in his or her own abilities, capacities, and judgments, or belief that he or she can successfully face day to day challenges and demands (Psychology Dictionary Online).

… Typically, when you are confident in your abilities you are happier due to your successes. When you are feeling better about your capabilities, the more energized and motivated you are to take action and achieve your goals.

Self-confidence, then, is similar to self-efficacy in that it tends to focus on the individual’s future performance; however, it seems to be based on prior performance, and so in a sense, it also focuses on the past. __

People tend to enjoy doing things that they are good at. If a person is good at solving puzzles and problems — of whatever type — they will have more confidence and enthusiasm when faced with new puzzles and problems.

Ways to Build Confidence

  • Get Things Done
  • Do The Right Thing
  • Follow Through
  • Think Long-term
  • Don’t Care What Others Think
  • More here

The way to build confidence is clearly to succeed at getting things done, over and over again. It is particularly useful in this regard to get meaningful things done — things that you can take pride in. It is also helpful if one is guided by his own inner compass rather than by outside opinion. Overcoming failure is just part of the experience of gaining confidence through getting things done.

Here are a few attributes of confident people:

  • They don’t seek attention
  • They don’t make excuses
  • They don’t avoid conflict
  • They aren’t afraid to make decisions
  • They seek feedback for informational purposes
  • They are not afraid of failure
  • They don’t ruminate on negative thoughts
  • They don’t broadcast negative energy outward
  • They focus on the task, not on themselves
  • They deal with criticism then move on
  • They know when to take action and do so without asking permission


As in self-efficacy, meaningful self confidence comes from proving oneself competent to solve problems and to achieve things that are often thought difficult. Think of it as a “habit of competent achievement.”

When this type of competence is combined with an unconventional vision and genius, we often find persons who are sources of disruptive innovation and change. True disruptive geniuses are rare. Either they arrive on the scene too early (Leonardo da Vinci), or they have a character flaw that limits their scope of vision, or they get caught up in the social milieu of the times and fail to step far enough out of the mainstream.

We are living in a time of hyper-conformity, when most of the public believes that “consensus” is more important than verifiability, accuracy, falsifiability, or precision in science. In truth, consensus is the shite of science, but how are the people to know this in this age of group mind?

And so it should be clear that this world needs a variety of youth movements that lead the young to think independently from the crowd, to immerse themselves in the deep science of pattern, movement, language, and the passions of humanity — past, present, and future. Movements such as the Dangerous Child movement, where youth are financially independent several different ways by the age of 18. Where youth are not intimidated by the appeal to authority or to the majority opinion. Where youth are not swayed by emotional arguments based upon any type of consensus at all — without having worked their way through the arguments and the evidence themselves.

To have a confident future we must have confident youth and young adults with the intelligence, creativity, and hands-on skills to see things through.