From the “Ways of Thinking About Learning That Drive Me Crazy Dept.” comes this article in the Miami Herald titled “Ways We Can Make Students Interested in School.”
Now, anyone who reads this space regularly knows that I don’t think this is a very difficult question. We can start by looking at schools where kids actually enjoy the learning environment and process and try to discern what makes it so. We can ask ourselves what would make us interested in school if we were students. Heck, we could even ask the kids.
Those don’t seem to be in the mix for the author of this article, however. No, instead, this author seeks to “fix” apathetic kids. We have to teach kids, wait for it, to be “self-motivated”. That needs to become “the new educational buzzword” that should shape our work.
What this means, of course, is that kids should be trained to be self-motivated to achieve “habits and discipline that will lead to academic success,” two things that “have all but gone by the wayside” in our consumer driven society (of which kids are a part.) We do this by getting kids to “sit in the front, take notes, ask questions, be organized, do all the work, and find a study partner.”
And, as I’m sure you know, this is important because “because at some point in every person’s life, either at school or in a job or in a marriage, he or she will have to buck up and say, ‘This is hard. This is boring. I don’t want to do this. But I’m doing it anyway. And I’ll do my best.”
I love that last part, because it absolves anyone in schools from doing anything to make schools less boring. In fact, we actually should make school boring so kids can deal with boring jobs and boring marriages and boring whatever else when they become boring grown ups. So, if you actually enjoy school, you miss this important life lesson.
But here’s the thing: kids are self-motivated to learn out of the womb. They are constantly learning without being taught. They are constantly asking questions and figuring out their worlds, creating their own lesson plans on the fly, learning tacitly with and from other kids. Most kids are learning sponges, with technology or not.
And then they come to school and over a few years we drive it out of them.
The irony of the argument in this article is obvious: we’re supposed to be putting back in what we took away in the first place.
There are millions of kids in this world who love to come to school because school is a place that allows them to maintain their self-motivation to learn and finds ways to make sure the school stuff they need happens in contextually meaningful and relevant ways. Those schools start their work with where the kids are, put an emphasis on maintaining and nurturing that learning disposition they already have, and create cultures where boredom is rare or at least creatively useful.
Unfortunately, there are many millions more kids who are stuck in cultures where the those conditions are replaced with the “buck up” mentality that says “School and learning sucks sometimes. You need to learn our stuff whether you want to or not. So, get over it.”
No school, no culture, no environment is perfect. But there are models. And it’s not rocket science. Just depends on what extent we truly value kids as learners and not the objects of teaching.
(Image source: Kychan)