Let me first say that I love Kathy Sierra’s blog because so much of what she writes has relevance to education and because there is such a spirit and energy to it that it just makes me motivated to, as she says, “kick ass.” The name of her blog, “Creating Passionate Users” is what education should be all about, shouldn’t it? Helping kids become engaged. Helping them find their passions. Helping them be able to create a life around whatever it is they are passionate about. Notice that it’s not about teaching them to do that. You can’t teach someone to be engaged or passionate. Sure, you can model it, and I think every teacher should share her passions with her students because I’m not sure kids see a lot in the way of healthy passion in the world these days. But there is no text or curriculum for becoming engaged.
Passion bubbles to the surface only when experiences draw them out. Lately, I’ve been looking at my own children and seeing them begin to feel passionate. For my 8 year old daughter, it’s horses. Yesterday I had to almost drag her away from scooping poop at the horse farm down the road to come home and eat dinner. After riding, everything about her smells like pony, and she refuses to change her clothes to put us out of our misery. (That may be less passion that it is obstinance.) For my 6 year old son, it’s basketball. All of a sudden, all he wants to do is spend time at the end of the driveway dribbling and shooting this old beat up basketball that looks like it’s coming unpeeled as the leather separates from its black rubber body. Seriously, he must take a couple hundred shots a day (and he makes most of them, I might add.)
But when it comes to school, they have very little passion. I’ve written about this before, but they are bored silly. It’s already become just a routine they put up with so they can see their friends. Wendy and I give them extra work at home, try to make words and numbers fun, but that almost serves to make their disenchantment with school worse. They are disengaging. And I can guarantee that as they take more and more tests that have no obvious relevance to their lives, they will become more and more disengaged.
I know a fair number of passionate learners, people who seek out opportunities to think seriously about thier lives and world around them. I wish I knew more. I don’t see many passionate learners in classrooms, however, students who are always “learning, growing or improving in some way” (as Kathy puts it) simply for the sake of knowing more instead of for getting a grade. My kids are riding and dribbling not for an assessment but to get the buzz that comes with being able to do it well (as well as for many other non-graded reasons.) That doesn’t guarantee that they will be life long learners, but it’s a start.
So the question for me becomes can schools create passionate users? Can we begin to teach the stuff we need to teach in the context of our students’ passions? And in doing so, can we instill and nurture in them a love of learning and growing? For the vast majority of our kids, school is a game, and though it may be hard to admit, most of us on this side of the desk are complicit participants. The outcomes are clearly defined, and very few of them have anything to do with fostering passionate learning. And in a world where our students can much more easily connect to people who share their passions outside of school, we risk a great deal when we fail to think seriously about how we might create passionate learning opportunities in our classrooms as well.