Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Made to learn

The most important attitude that can be formed is that of a desire to go on learning. To ignore whether children like learning or not is ignorant to the fact that where interest appears, achievement usually follows.

However, as Alfie Kohn explains in Punished by Rewards, American education, for the most part, gets this wrong:

A top corporate executive, acccustomed to the exercise of power, lamened not too long ago about the decline of education in this country. Children, he declared, must be "made to understand the importance of learning." The approach captured in this short phrase is emblematic of what is wrong with American schooling. The aggressive attempt to "make" children do things - and even more absurd, to "make" them understand why they should care about what they have been made to do - is a recipe for failure. If, to paraphrase a famous critical report, an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America a mediocre educational system, it could have devised no better plan than to establish mechanisms for tightly controlling what students do in school.
William Glasser confirms Kohn's tone:

Coercive teachers are the rule, not the exception, in our schools... We pressure students to learn what they do not want to learn, and then punish them with low grades when they do not learn it. We lose them as learners.
When we focus more on simply enforcing learning we engage in something that looks less like real teaching and more like bullying.

When Glasser says we lose them as learners, he's not kidding. While some students may choose to physically attend but mentally checking-out, many more are voting with their feet and refuse to even show up - they're dropping out.

With current day drop out rates being as high as they are, there comes a point when blaming the kids or doubling the dose of more of the same is simply not a productive use of our time.

While it is true that children are made to learn - this is not the same as making them do so.


  1. You have to do better job of proofing your work.

  2. @anonymous: Do you provide the same, cold, short, indifferent, and utterly unhelpful comments to your students or do you reserve such unproductive, ignorant one liners to only bloggers who try and publish one peice of thoughtful content every day?

    The words we say are important, but often the words we don't say are even more important. Think about that.

    Can you imagine how it might feel to be a child who works his tail off on a peice of writing only to get a response that takes the form of an uninspiring, one sentence critique?

    If you feel the need to say such things, please feel free to dispense them on me. I will take them gladly if it means your students or children are not subjected to such thoughtless judgments.


  3. Great post, Joe! This is exactly the discussion I've been having with many teachers these past few weeks -- how to balance the intention of increasing engagement in the classroom, with the reality of an overloaded curriculum and government exam.

    I personally cite my own teaching experience of difference between a 30-1 class and a 30-4 class. The academic stream has both external and internal pressure to "perform" well, which sometimes clouds the ability to fully learn key concepts/ideas.

    Conversely, when I had my K&E class, the only goal was to keep them coming to school, and give them some basic problem-solving, life skills. As a result, we had the 'luxury' of exploring areas of the curriculum that students found of high interest to them, or saw the value in learning for real-world application. With no burden of a standardized exam testing each specific outcome of the curriculum, we could delve deeply into some topics, and expose the students to other topics at a more superficial level. It's sad when the more academic classes don't get this luxury -- especially because often those students have highly inquisitive minds and could do SO much if only a different structure of education was presented to them!

    On a separate note -- LOVE the new website!! I'm just getting caught up on my blog reading ;)

    Happy summer!

  4. Vanessa,

    I find it grossly ironic that the system's dictates around testing, curriculum and accountability are the largest obstacles teachers face when trying to make time for real learning. If it wasn't so damn sad, we might be laughing.

  5. I get your point, Joe, and endorse it, and, yet, I think you are wrong. It does no good to tell a teacher to only teach what the student finds useful or interesting. It goes against the fundamental reason people become teachers. M. Robert Gardner said it best: "{The furor to teach is} a menace to teachers, to students, and to innocent bystanders. Teachers possessed by that furor are in trouble. Teachers devoid of that furor--if such can be called teachers--are in more trouble....But where can anyone be found with both the required furor and the required restraint? Who but the person badly bit by the teaching bug would put up with the conditions of teaching?...The true teacher will always find something that needs to be taught, the method by which it needs to be taught, and the person who needs to be taught what the teacher regards as necessary to teach by that necessary method."
    Jerry Heverly, Oakland, California


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