We should care about Learning Styles because we are Christian and we believe in the Body of Christ; because “there are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit distributes them” (1 Corinthians 12:4); because “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-19).

At Christmas our pastor gave a gift to every parish family --- a copy of the book, “Rediscover Catholicism, A Spiritual Guide to Living With Passion and Purpose,” by Matthew Kelly. My husband and I have been faithfully reading a few pages every evening during our prayer time. (Of course, Father did make everyone promise that if we took a book we would read at least the first 10 pages! He said that would be enough to get us hooked. So we are now on Page 82 and loving the book.)

In Chapter 6 Kelly says: “God calls each of us to live an authentic life. He has designed this life to perfectly integrate our legitimate needs, our deepest desires, and our unique talents. The more intimately and harmoniously these three are related, the more you become truly yourself….

“In a very beautiful way God wants you to be yourself … the self God had in mind when he created you. By calling you to live an authentic life, God is saying, ‘Be all I create you to be.’”

In “How to Find Your Mission in Life,” Richard Bolles puts it this way: Your mission in life is:

---“to exercise the Talent which you particularly came to Earth to use — your greatest gift...”

---“in the place(s) or setting(s) which God has caused to appeal to you the most…”

---“and for those purposes which God most needs to have done in the world.”

You might not have thought about “learning styles” in this way before, yet each of the authors I’ve quoted above are talking about learning styles. Your learning styles make up who you are. They include your interests, your personality, the way your brain processes information, and all of your natural gifts and abilities ---- in other words, the way God made you.

Learning Styles are about coaching our children to discover who they are as unique creations of God, and what God has in mind for them. When we honor our children’s learning styles, we acknowledge that God has made them in certain ways; we then cooperate with God’s design by encouraging and supporting those characteristics.

How else can our children grow up with confidence in their abilities? Will they feel rooted in God’s love and discover the mission God has in mind for them if they are constantly learning that they are not good enough? That they aren’t measuring up? That they are not working to potential?

Millions of children are learning at this very moment in classrooms around the country (including Catholic school classrooms) that they are not smart, not serious, not motivated, not capable, and have nothing to contribute. How can that be? Aren’t these the same kids that were so smart when they were 2, 3 and 4 years old?

It is because, despite all the rhetoric about each child being an individual, our classrooms continue the one-size-fits-all model of education. The kids who need to move are labeled hyperactive or ADHD; those who need time to reflect and ponder are labeled ADD; those who need to verbalize and ask lots of questions are labeled impulsive; those who need to discuss or have conversations in order to learn are labeled disruptive. 

When we honor our children’s learning styles, we acknowledge that God has made them in certain ways; we then cooperate with God’s design by encouraging and supporting those characteristics. How else can our children grow up with confidence in their abilities?

Students who are not ready to read or write at 4 or 5 or 6 years of age are forced to anyway, then labeled dyslexic. Kids who are tortured by workbooks and desks and book reports are labeled lazy, slow, unmotivated or disrespectful, or all of these.

Did you know that the majority of people in the population are hands-on, experiential learners? Only a few are print learners --- that is, read-the-textbook-and-answer-the-questions types of learners. So why are classrooms set up to only shine the spotlight on those lucky three to five students who have the “magic” learning style combination for school?

Those hands-on, experiential learners are our potential inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, musicians, poets, philosophers, artists of all kinds, missionaries and creative people. They share the same learning styles as Einstein and similar brilliant people whom we admire. They are the students who are often labeled with a learning disability, who experience failure almost daily in school, and who don’t realize how smart they are and that they have unlimited possibilities. What a tragedy!

I don’t think this is what God has in mind for these children. Each child’s special learning styles need to be acknowledged and encouraged if each child is to grow up to be the person God meant him/her to be.

I believe that parents have an obligation to protect their children from damaging school experiences that keep them from becoming the people God intended them to be. Teachers have an obligation to bring out the star in every child by nurturing the learning styles that God gave them.

Catholic schools in particular have an obligation to provide all children with a school experience that reinforces the wonderful ways God made each of them. That means drastically changing the way classrooms operate. Rather than modeling the test-driven secular schools, they need to be places that offer many types of learning opportunities for all learning styles and developmental stages. In this way Catholic schools will become the true leaders in guiding children to discern their greatest gifts and how to use them for God’s purposes in the world.

This is my challenge to all parents, teachers, and Catholic schools in this new year: Can we transform the education of our youth so that it truly puts God first? Can we truly --- as the L.A. Archdiocese’s Catholic Schools website suggests --- “prepare our students to become full and active members of the Catholic Church, to serve others, and to make a difference in the world?” 

It will only happen if we honor the differences in each child, if we look at their learning styles --- the ways God made them --- and meet their individual learning needs.

“And parents, do not nag your children, lest they lose heart” (Ephesians 6:4).

©2012 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, M.S.

Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis is a California credentialed teacher and holds a Master's Degree in Special Education. She is co-author, with Victoria Kindle Hodson, of "Discover Your Child's Learning Style" (Random House) and "Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten." For many years a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, she attends Mission San Buenaventura. She can be reached at [email protected].

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