CRI Focus Areas


Who Wants to Learn?

11/28/2018

Abbott: “Didn’t you go to school?” Costello: “I went to school stupid, and I came out the same way!” A few years ago I had the opportunity to substitute teach in one of our area’s middle schools. The topic of the class was the deserts in the Middle East.                                                                                                  I was initially thrilled with the topic. As a thirteen year old, I had lived in the Middle East, and had gone exploring in the deserts many times! I told the class about my adventures, emphasizing the times of the day that were not unbearably hot, suitable for exploring, and the times to avoid being out in the sun. Every day in the summer we took a midday nap, when the sun was strongest, and stayed up until midnight! Because the heat was dry, it often didn’t feel as hot. A few American boys in our group thought they could then go out bare headed, and ended in the hospital for heatstroke. I told them that when out camping in the desert you had to check your shoes every morning, because scorpions sometimes hid in them overnight.               I didn’t spend much time on this area, barely five minutes or so. All this was meant to provoke interest in the students, prior to reading and reviewing the selection the teacher had left me. I had always pre-taught a lesson before reading, to excite interest in the topic. I asked at one point if anyone had any questions, and a young girl, who appeared studious, asked me “if any of this was going to be on the test.” Other students sullenly agreed. Since that time I have substituted enough in different Delaware schools and classes, and sadly I now know this attitude towards learning is not unique.                                  One of the goals of education, I would think, is to foster a life-long interest in learning; in other words, to help develop a habit that would continue after they have left school. Another was to develop a connection between the subject and the learner, so the learning would be meaningful; sometimes this is known as “scaffolding” new items to the knowledge base the students already have inquired. The young lady in that social studies class appeared to have no interest in having an interest, and made no connection with her life, or wished to make any connection. Instead, she wanted to hear what was on the test only, and planned to repeat it back by rote, either in multiple choice or in writing. As an educator for 40 years, I would expect that she would remember very little about what she learned by the end of the unit, or at the end of the test, whichever came first. And why should she? One might honestly ask-in what way does such learning truly result in education? Is the problem the fault of today’s students? I would argue that the young lady and her classmates should not be blamed. The students had bought the message of the system, which was that the highest goal was to do well on the test, curriculum is for the most part disconnected from their life and is a meaningless exercise, and that school was not in the business of engaging them, or planting seeds of interest they might want to explore further. Most books on improving education concentrate on the big picture; on organizational plans and leadership models and parental involvement. While there is benefit to these varied elements, things will fundamentally not change, until we address curriculum, and what is happening every day in the classroom! 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