Little Bookworm used to leap out of bed every morning, anxious to go to school and work on whatever project was engaging her attention at the time. After six months in public school, I struggle to wake her up as she pleads “Do I have to go to school today?” It turns out that the one thing public schools teach children really well is how to hate learning.
Turns out, too, that public school teachers and educators, although not realizing how complicit they are, have in fact figured out that a disproportionate number of students don’t want to learn:
More than a quarter of teachers in urban school districts across the country say they don’t believe their students are motivated to learn, according to a survey by the National School Boards Association.
Of the 4,700 teachers polled in 12 urban districts, including San Francisco, about 1 in 10 also don’t look forward to going to work each day.
(You can see a news report summarizing other survey results here.)
As I’ve been hammering away here, students don’t want to learn because the educational system has sucked the meaning out of learning. Facts and skills are presented without any context. So much of what children learn takes place in an informational vacuum — and facts without context are boring and meaningless.
I checked out two books from the library last week that were both reminiscences by former jeopardy champions: Bob Harris’ Prisoner of Trebekistan : A Decade in Jeopardy and Ken Jenning’s Brainiac : Adventures in the Curious, Competitve, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Both are delightful books that I can highly recommend, and both are books that deal with our ability to take in and retain information.
And as to the latter point, both men absolutely concur that we learn best when we find the information engaging and can relate it to things we already know. You can use brute force memorization for a lot of things, but the effortless, joyful learning comes when a fact triggers all sorts of little synapses, and makes us excited.
That was one of the points of the Mission post I did yesterday. My daughter learned about milk cartons, plaster of Paris and kidney beans, with a little time taken out for adobe brick composition and a random fact thrown in about Indian slaves. She never got a story. She never heard about adventurers, and warriors, and men of faith. She never heard about God, and gold, and disease. She never heard about the clash of two ancient cultures, one armed with arrows, and one equipped with horses, guns and germs. She never heard about wide open spaces, and men of God creating lodgings for horseback travelers. She got some facts, but learned nothing. There was no joy, no interest, no curiosity.
Public school can be summed up into two question and answer cycles in our household. In the evening, I ask “What did you learn?” and my kids, in one form or another, answer “Nothing.” And in the morning, they ask “Do I have to go to school?” and I, reluctantly, answer “Yes.”
The administrators and teachers have figured out that there’s a problem, but I’m betting that they’ll never figure out that they’re the cause. Nor will they see that, by changing their mindset, by changing their fundamental lack of respect for children’s innate inquisitiveness and joy in the stories of our world, they could actually effectuate a solution.