Friday, September 30, 2011

Passion solves problems! List them here. #2: Kids don't want to learn!

2. "Kids don't want to learn. They don't put in the work. They don't fulfill their potential."

Why not?

In too many schoolchildren, we don't see the hunger to learn that we saw when they were toddlers. Toddlers seize their education with both hands, stumble and run and fall and get up, ready to learn more.

But inside our schools there are kids who don't seem to care about learning at all. Some kids care but have no confidence in their abilities; some kids stress out about homework and grades and adult approval. Few kids seem motivated, ignited, by something deep inside them, which is fulfilled by hard work and achievement of mastery which school is helping them to accomplish.

Where's the love of learning? What's been lost? How did we lose it? How can we get it back?

Too many kids in the public school system are bringing passivity about their learning to school with them, and I'm going to give very short shrift to all the particulars of why and how and whose fault it is (well, ok, here's a little more shrift: it's the fault of the system that we all have given our tacit approval to, by our inability to stand up and change it. It's not the teachers. It's not the parents. It's not the administrators. That's too easy. I place a lot of blame, but we all shoulder it, including myself.*)

Some teachers are better at it than others, this business of getting kids interested in stuff they don't care about. Lots of professional development has been devoted to it. There are whole libraries of books on the subject. How do you teach kids to love math? How do you make history come alive? How do you turn kids on to the mysteries of science? So many strategies, so many methods, while kids shrug, look out the window, fingers itching for the keypad to their phones.

We have convinced ourselves that we know, much better than children do, what they need to learn and when. The possibility of going about the business of education in an entirely different way seems impossible to contemplate.

Wouldn't it have just made sense to pay close attention to who these kids are instead of being in such an all-afire hurry to teach them stuff? I mean, not only having an "Identity Day," although I like the idea. How about an Identity Year?

If the public school system was a book, then the first page, the page that said: "First find their passions," has gone missing. Adults have been floundering about ever since, trying to find that missing page, that thing that would make kids love learning.

Start with passion and see where children will lead you. Respect what they need to learn right now, give them time and space to do what drives them, and see what doors it opens. Have faith in them. Let's stop making end-runs around the problem of motivating kids to learn, go to the source, find out what's inside kids and how we can help them make pursue their dreams of who they need to be.

Without passion, any kind of school change is just the same ol' same ol'.

*I've been a school board member for 8 years, and not much about how we do school has changed.


  1. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but don't believe that a kid's passions may necessarily lead to the learning she needs to do to be something beyond her 5 or 8 or 13-year-old self. And I'm not afraid to say it: yes, adults DO know better what students need to learn. So, let's compromise: students should be a part of the learning process, but teachers - as teachers, not mentors or facilitators - are vital, too.

  2. Ah yes...the usual excuse to disregard the passions of children. Sorry, I completely disagree. Start with passion. Coercion is the least effective way to instill a love of learning. Is it so hard to respect what's inside a child?

  3. I want to support Lisa in her belief that allowing children to follow their passions will help to keep them engaged and excited about learning. As a long-time educator and parent, my research in and outside the classroom bears this out. Children need to have voice and choice in order to stay motivated in school. In our testing-driven school culture where curriculum is often decontextualized, lacking connection to their life experiences, children quickly lose motivation.

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  5. I am a passionate person and definitely would have loved a school that offers the possibility to search my passion and let me grow as I discover it. But the possibility given by one person or even an entire school would not have helped if the environment is not filled with passionate people. The apparent truth is that only a small percentage of people can be passionate. Most people, more than 90%, regardless of age, are not interested in focusing on their inner workings. Most wait for the outside world to provide an opportunity to enjoy - anything - and use it as long as it breaks. The only thing they want to learn then is what kind of opportunity they like and how they like using it. The passionate people can best learn early about who they are (takes too much time, always), recognize others like themselves (if they are lucky and looking hard enough) - and stick with them. But giving an opportunity to be passionate to everyone will be a burning failure with more than 90% percent of people on Earth. They just don't care.

    1. Couldn't disagree more, Billypot! People care when they are given the opportunity. Permission is all people need. Permission plus resources, time and support.