Ecology of childhood: the power of enthusiasm - TEDx Vicenza 2015


André Stern is a musician, music composer, guitar maker, author and journalist.

André Stern never went to school. He is the son of Arno Stern, an educationalist and researcher, whose work is based on the preservation of the spontaneous disposition of the human being.

André Stern has written about his unschooled life, and about his experience as a father, in two best-sellers, available in German, published by Editions Zabert Sandmann: "… Und ich war nie in der Schule", 2009 (now in its 6th edition) and "Mein Vater, mein Freund", 2011, co-written by Arno Stern (see publications). He is also Head of the Institut Arno Stern (Arno Stern Institute).


In his TEDx Talk, André announces a new approach to early childhood education based on the trust in our incredible spontaneous dispositions.


André Stern About Enthusiasm (English Subtitle) - TEDx Dijon 2014

André Stern, Initiator of the movement "Ecology of Childhood" talks about the recent discoveries of neurobiology and how enthusiasm acts as a natural fertilizer of the brain, how there is no better way to learn than playing, how children are optimized for the world...

"Trust must be restored, in the children, and in their extraordinary spontaneous dispositions"
"Enthusiasm is the key. And above all, it's extraordinary that neurobiology brings us the proof for a thing we've known forever, because we know that enthusiasm gives us wings..."
~ André Stern
Translation and subtitles by Pauline Latournerie and Anne Greenberg (Institut Arno Stern)


A Life of Learning & Passion, interview with grown unschooler André Stern

André Stern, his wife Pauline and their son Antonin - by Isabelle Latournerie © 2012.
André Stern, his wife Pauline and their son Antonin - by Isabelle Latournerie © 2012.

Q: When we read your book, we feel this complicity between your parents, a common choice to provide the support, the environment, the tools, to find interesting people who are interested in your passions. What is their philosophy? Or is it rather a lifestyle?


A: There is no philosophy, no method. Lifestyle would be closer, but it's mostly and particularly an attitude.


My parents were moved, they saw us grow up, walk, talk, without educational intervention, without prompting, each one at his/her own pace. They still are moved now that they're living a second wave with Antonin and approach his childhood with a tenfold confidence. Their main attitude is observation. In the observation position, one is protected from making mistakes. We no longer have time to think. Driven by curiosity, I observe what will be the next natural step in the spontaneous disposition of the child, in his development, rather than seeking how I could induce the next step.


Anecdote: Antonin began to say: "2, 4, 6." Why? We don't know. When he was hearing a number, he was replying: "2, 4, 6." We are very curious to see what will be the next step. In the world of others, which is not always like ours although we are part of it, someone was a little shocked to see him, beaming, repeating ''2, 4, 6.'' He told us: "You can not let him make such a mistake; he mispronounces, he doesn't count properly. It is your responsibility to show him." He told Antonin: "We must say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6...."


I rely on modern neurobiology: The child turns to his primary reference persons: his parents. The child expects from them an approval, a green light. It falls within the child. We have a huge responsibility: it is for us to give his spontaneous disposition the acquiescence that he expects; we validate and then all other influences have no hold on him.


So Antonin looked at him and replied: "2, 4, 6." Later, he began to say: "1, 3, 4, 6."


The child has such a desire, such a need for approval, for reference, that he is ready to give up his spontaneous disposition on behalf of whatever receives a good reception from his referees (parents). We can allow the child to develop in his own disposition, or impose our own way: What a huge responsibility!


We knew that, if we did not intervene, another step would come after 2, 4, 6. We want to ensure that his evolution is his personal evolution, and not the result of our intervention. That's what has always driven my parents.


Another part of the attitude involves enthusiasm. Neurobiology tells us of exciting things. I will summarize the history of neurobiology. It was initially thought that we, humans, have different types of brains: fast, slow, stupid, smart. This was convenient and we created categories like under-talented, gifted, etc. Permanently. Some wise guy even had the idea (it was thankfully not pursued!) to sterilize people with an IQ level below a certain figure, to prevent them from reproducing.


In fact, brain develops depending on the use one makes of it. A first discovery showed that the brain area that controls the movement of the thumbs is three times more developed among fifteen-years-oldss of today than of thirty years ago. Do you have an inkling about this? Of course, that's because of texting. Stunning discovery. As a result, scientists decided to treat the brain like a muscle, to make it really big. Since the area that deals with the thumbs has tripled in size, they invented a program to triple the volume of the brain.They tried to have kindergarten children learn five languages, but to their great disappointment, it didn't work.


The key discovery they then made is something we all have always known : The brain develops where it is used with enthusiasm!


Analysed now by scientists, the process is quite clear: enthusiasm acts as a fertilizer for the brain. Where we act with enthusiasm, the brain develops in a spectacular and automatic way. Neurobiology has taken years to prove what we all know by instinct and experience: Enthusiasm is the key. In a state of enthusiasm, nothing is longer inaccessible, learning happens "all by itself". Do you know that small children experience a surge of enthusiasm about every three minutes? In adults, such a surge of enthusiasm arrives only two to three times a year! Children are born as full of enthusiasm. We have no idea what happens when a child grows undisturbed in this primordial and primary state of enthusiasm. My luck - this is anything but a personal merit - is that I can bring new and decisive answers about it.


Now that we agree on the crucial aspect of this necessity, it is good to know that enthusiasm takes time. When, for example, I read an author or when I learned German for 6 hours in a row, nobody came after fifty minutes (the average length of a course in a classroom setting) to tell me that it was over. When we live our enthusiasm over time and with confidence, we deepen our knowledge and understanding, logically, every day. And I was able to experience that this has a spectacular side effect, which is competence.


When we are enthusiastic, our competence increases at high speed. And do you know that competence also has a side effect? It is called achievement, success!


We are ready to trample others, to sacrifice our life in the name of success. We have unlearned many things in the name of success, which is nothing but the side effect of competence, which is, in turn, the side effect of enthusiasm. That's it! What is sold as an end in itself is just a side effect of the side effect of enthusiasm.

Q: Your book is also a call to freedom, and to confidence. Do you think that parents are lacking confidence in their children?


A: This is what characterizes most parents. They believe that if they do not educate their children, they will become illiterate and asocial savages. Yet children are extremely competent. Children are born with the best, the most suitable, and most amazing of learning devices ever invented: play. From then on, there is only room for confidence.


I am talking about extreme competence of the child, the learning capacity of the child. Enthusiasm leads to competence and then to success. There is nothing more to worry about. I sometimes talk to people who have no qualifications, no diploma, and I tell them that qualifications are not needed but competence is, and that this is the result of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is free, available to everyone.


I am a practical illustration of the weight of confidence. We must tell this story, so that parents see how much we have to trust children.


Read the full interview here : http://www.lifelearningmagazine.com/1210/Interview-with-Grown-Unschooler-Andre-Stern.htm


The power of enthusiasm

Lifelong playing for lifelong learning

Lecture University Zürich (Switzerland)


More in English, here : http://www.andrestern.com/en/home.html