All across the world, the natural love and desire to learn is dying. Not a slow death, not a death of old age based on the outdated adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” No, instead students’ curiosity is being repeatedly killed by teachers in classrooms everywhere. Like WorldoMeters live ticker counting up the steady deaths from smoking or alcohol, students’ innate fire to learn is being extinguished by the Mr. and Ms. Smiths (no offense to any of the Mr. or Mrs. Smiths of the world) in schools near and far. I write the following on behalf of all teachers and for all students – as an inditement and plea for something better; as a statement begging for more from all parties involved in order to save a future for learning.
I will begin my case by stating that most every teacher I have ever worked with has had good intentions. Teachers everywhere go into education for the sake of the students and go about their days keeping the children in their care at the heart of what they do. For the most part, all the teachers I know work hard and give their mind, heart, soul, and body, into what they do. But like they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And for the small percent of teachers that don’t, this post is not about them or for them. I believe that they are few and far between, and that putting the blame on them would be disingenuous and would redirect the spotlight away from the bigger issue at hand: the continual killing of subjects across the land.
Go into a school anywhere. Stop by a random classroom*. There you will see the death of subjects. Heads down, shoulders slumped, and bodies slouched. Disengaged students day dreaming (or at times actually dreaming) about something else that matters more to them. Talk to a random student. Listen in on young people talking about their education. You will hear them say time and again “social studies sucks”… “reading is stupid”… “science is sooooo boring”… “music stinks” …or the worst of them all, “I hate learning.” Look through a teacher’s grade book. Read teacher comments. You will see 0s for missed assignments and a countless number of students “underachieving.” Visit a house with children before school. Stop by a family’s home during homework time. You will hear the fights as parents drag their kids out of bed or threaten them with everything, including the kitchen sink, about doing their work. The death of learning can be seen everywhere.
There are a variety of motives behind the killing of learning. Educational mandates handed down from (mostly) well intentioned decision makes trying to “fix” education. Budgets that fall short. Time that runs out. Testing. One size fits all programs promised to educate every student equally. Old teacher habits that can’t or won’t die off. While these motives are real and exist, I will no longer stand by and accept them for the excuses that they are. Like I do with my students, I will hold us educators to a higher standard and demand that we do better – no matter the hurdles we must overcome.
The Murder Weapons
Like in the game of Clue, there is a set list of murder weapons to choose from. Professor Plum, with the text book, in social studies. Miss Scarlet, with homework, in first grade. Colonel Mustard, with endless lectures, in math class. Mrs. White, with sarcastic remarks and rote memorization, in the science lab. Mr. Green, with yelling and unfair punishments, in the band room. Mrs. Peacock, with tired old teaching practices, in middle school language arts. While the fact that the list continues is bothersome, what becomes more damning is the fact that we, as a collective profession, know better, and yet we continue on with outdated and destructive practices.
The Closing Statement
When we kill subjects and the love of learning for our students, the repercussions go way farther than a failing test score or a subpar grade at the end of a school year. If you talk to most adults they still carry the scares, both known and hidden, of these lost topics. “I’m just not a math person”…”I never got into reading”…”Me and music don’t just mix”…”I could never remember all of the those dates in social studies”…”Science just isn’t my thing”…”I hated learning growing up.” We must change the narrative by changing what we do. Let’s breathe inspiration into our classes. Let’s leave students wanting more. Let’s be remembered – not just the content we teach but the activities, classroom climate, and relationships we create.
What I seek is not punishment or retribution, instead a community service of sorts, to make good on the promise of education to inspire the love of learning. I sentence all teachers, educators, administrators, and policy makers to the following; a life sentence of becoming a life-long learner. Here’s how to start:
- Teachers should read books like Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess to look for inspiration and the “how to” on bringing excitement and passion into your teaching.
- Everyone should join Twitter, to stay connected to teachers from all across the world for ideas and support on this ever changing lifelong journey.
- Teachers need to get out of their classrooms and into the classrooms of the educators around them to remix ideas and find the motivation to do better.
- Administrators should read George Couros’ the Innovators Mindset to cultivate and unleash the creativity of the many amazing teachers in their schools.
- We all need to go straight to the source, and ask our students what they want from their education. What do they want to learn? How do they want to learn? What can we, as teachers, do to breathe life into learning?
Let us all make the love of learning a non-negotiable. Just like content standards, formative assessments, feedback, and evidence, let’s make passion a part of our lesson planning. Let’s dedicate the same amount of time and resources that we do now for the many programs we implement into inspiring our students about our subjects. Let us collect data on students’ feelings towards our class and our school in the same manner in which we collect data on a students’ abilities to read informational text. And if all else fails, if this is all too much for us, let us then be selfless heroes and jump on the grenade ourselves, and tell our students, “I have failed you. You can hate me. You can hate this class. However, do not hate social studies (or science, math or any other subject) and please never hate learning.
I’d love to hear from you – how do you inspire the love of learning? In what ways do you make the love of learning a non-negotiable?
*There are many classrooms, in every school, where inspirational teaching and learning is taking place. There are countless educators who I look up to and inspire to be because of their dedication and ability to cultivate the love of learning in their students.