Mistaking Disengagement for Deficit
Keeping students motivated in today’s education environment can be difficult. And it’s not because kids are inherently lacking in either ambition or intelligence either. Children actually like learning. The problem is that we’ve created learning environment’s that often aren’t really conducive to learning. We’ve created the perfect conditions for boredom and inattention to occur and then act surprised when students are inattentive and bored. When grades begin to suffer, often the first assumption is that a child has some sort of intellectual deficit or learning disorder.
Don’t get me wrong. Learning disorders are real and should be addressed appropriately. But when ever-growing percentages of students are diagnosed as learning disabled, it should raise some serious questions about why. If learning requires engagement, we’ve created a perfect laboratory for fostering learning disabilities. All too frequently, students who are assumed to have problems processing information are actually bored to tears because they’re not being intellectually challenged enough to engage their interest.
Encouraging Creativity and Curiosity
Education should not be relegated only to the classroom. Learning should be encouraged in every facet of a child’s life. We’ve fallen into a kind of trap—especially in the United States—of treating public education as a sort of glorified baby-sitting service. It’s understandable in a way. In a developed society like ours, we’ve dumped the responsibility of education on public schools. That’s fine as long as schools aren’t the only place that education is happening.
This may seem an odd concept, but children in developing countries are learning in every area of their lives, not just five days a week from 8:00 in the morning until 3:15 in the afternoon. As Sugata Mitra succinctly says, “if children have interest, then education happens.” Keeping kids interested in the world around them ensures that education happens, whether they’re in a classroom or not. Education need not be considered a dull liturgy of memorization and dry academic discourse which is as intellectually stimulating as watching paint dry.
Incorporating Education into Everyday Life
Encouraging learning can be as easy as simple substitution. You don’t need to resort to draconian measures like taking away TV time or anything drastic. But what are your kids watching? There are incredibly well done TV shows that are entertaining and interesting while imparting huge amounts of knowledge. If your child begins to watch the Discovery channel and exciting PBS documentaries, they can pick up vast amounts of information which keep them engaged. Education should be interesting and fun. Give children the right environment and activities and learning can be enhanced dramatically.
If students encounter specific challenges with respect to concepts or particular subjects, targeted tutoring can be extremely helpful. I had serious issues with long division in elementary school. I was brilliant in nearly every other subject, but long division was indecipherable to me. I just didn’t get it. There was nothing intuitive about it for me. No amount of hard work on my part would have made it understandable. And a frustrated father glaring over my shoulder trying to force the knowledge into my brain as if raising his voice would somehow do the trick just made it worse.
But finally they gave up and did what they probably should have done in the first place—they found me a good tutor. And that made all the difference in the world. She made it interesting, and more importantly, she made it fun. We need to get back in the business of making education interesting and engaging again. If we can do that, we’ll rediscover the fact that students actually love to learn.
Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing and family life. He writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University and has a keen interest in blogging and social media. He also writes for www.professionalintern.com.