Monday, February 13, 2006

Engaging Education

My wife and I won tickets from a local radio station to go and see Dr. Laura while she was here in Salt Lake. I might disagree with the good doctor on a point or two, but overall we are on the same page. I might be a little more diplomatic in my interactions, but then she only has a minute or two to get to the point.

One story she told is of her son, who at the age of 12 had decided he wanted to quit his martial arts lessons. She told him no. When he had his black belt, then he could quit if he wanted. Her rationale was that at the age of 12, he did not have the foresight to weigh the long term benefits of staying or the detriment of quitting.

I often hear people in education seminars boasting of the effectiveness of a particular program because it is engaging. That kids learn best while having fun and working with their interests.

Of course, being a both/and kind of person, I don't necessarily disagree with that assessment. However it is, as with many either/or arguments, missing some valid and needed alternative thought lines.

For one : If children, or any other learner for that matter, engage only in pursuing their interests... doesn't that narrow the field of their experiences? A child that decides early on that they only like macaroni and cheese at a particular restaurant, may never discover the other wonderful menu items if they do not venture out.

Second: If only engaging items are pursued, the child never learns to appreciate items with deferred gratification. For example, in one of his books, CS Lewis talks about his love of reading Greek poetry in the original Greek.. Prior to that pleasure, he tells of the tedious process he had to go through to learn to read and understand Greek. He did not enjoy that process. It had no pay off of its own. It was certainly not engaging.

Students have always complained about tedious homework. They complain, "When are we ever going to use this?!" Teachers have tried to come up with explanations in the past, but it was always assumed the work needed to be done. Now I find that parents and educators have been swayed. The student is right. They may never use this and besides, it's boring. Let them quit and do something else. If it is fun, it is worthwhile. If it is not.... well, shame on the teacher who would expect a student to do something they do not enjoy doing.

I for one quit trying to justify whether or not a child needed to learn long division or how to reduce a fraction a long time ago. My point is not that they learn these things (though that is a wonderful by-product), but rather that their mind becomes trained and that their will becomes disciplined.

I compare it to physical training. Most exercises that sports professionals go through to prepare for the game have no direct correlation to the game itself. When in real life will a man lift a weight 20 times, stop, and then repeat? The point is not the motion in and of itself but rather to train and strengthen the muscle so that it will be ready when a physical task is presented to it.

Why is it that if you were to present a new concept or idea to me and a 10 year old at the same time that I would grasp it faster... probably much faster. Neither of us have previous experience. The simple answer is that my mind has more training. It has been through the problem solving process more often. I have done the mental push-ups, so I can handle more mental weight.

The path of least resistance is to not stay on top of the kids homework, to make them practice their instrument, or keep to them on a path of completion when they would rather give up. I have often said that children will take that power of control if you give it to them - then resent you for giving it to them.


Brook said...

Dr. Laura... Blech!

Andrew said...

Heh! This is comin from a guy who quotes Dr. Phil. ;)

Related Posts with Thumbnails