Let Them Be Bored
“You’re boring them,” my master teacher noted characteristically. “I’d say 90 percent of the class doesn’t get it.”
She’s right, somewhat. My students aren’t too thrilled about my Venn Diagram comparing soft money and hard money, and the flicker of understanding was there in just a few faces. Indignant, I was tempted to ask her back what service a song and dance provides my students.
In a rare fit of self-preservation, I didn’t.
Let’s look at that question seriously: How do our students benefit with activities, simulations and the inevitable poster projects? Arguably, students are better educated from them.
Remember that in the last blog post, I wrote this at the end:
Just because something is tedious doesn’t mean it has to be.
I’m not some die-hard neo-traditionalist, if such an ideology exists. Forget my position in the past on technology — though I am clever enough to link once and link twice, natch — this is a question on whether teaching by engaging students is the right thing to do.
To get back on topic, consider the purpose of education, expressed through this context:
“Education is what remains when what has learned has been forgotten.”
If the goal of public education is to prepare our students for college and higher education, teaching with activities and simulations is a disservice. With these methods, the burden of learning is put upon the teacher, who finds or creates the lesson, chooses the pertinent information, presents the most important parts to the class in a debriefing. Students internalize the premise and general outcome, but only after the teacher has done all the legwork in figuring out what’s important.
Students aren’t sifting through primary source documents, putting in long hours of intellectual development. I certainly don’t advocate endless lecture outside Advanced Placement courses, or any classes meant to prepare for college, a phrase which as used here means “get used to endless lecture” and “learn how to learn on your own because the teacher isn’t going to make it easy.”
That said, let’s look beyond higher education.
If the goal of public education is to prepare our students for life, then teaching to the concepts in public life should be central. What concepts do we want to teach our students, who in this Information Age so-called have worlds of knowledge at their fingertips?
Should we teach them indirectly that the activity of learning, although fun, requires no work on their part? Beyond learning, should we teach them that anything of value comes without much effort, and that, if something is worthwhile, everyone could succeed at it?
Simulations cement general ideas and concepts of a given lesson. In a well-managed activity, students learn the content and, in my experience, do well discussing the concept in an essay. It doesn’t teach vocabulary, perhaps, but there are drills and quizzes for that.
The worry I have is that this emphasis on cooperative learning doesn’t teach students how to think critically in a sea of misinformation. Students don’t learn how to become self-sufficient thinkers — in learning, they rely on groupthink and tight-gripped teachers as they near the same age of self-perceived alienation and bucking authority for the sake thereof.
Coupled with education’s growing emphasis in creating a world where failure is impossible, the phenomenon that is the “engaging activity” won’t teach personal integrity, determination or a Puritan work ethic. Students may pick it up at home, but it isn’t the place of teachers to assume they will.
Our students aren’t learning these lessons at home. That’s the scariest part.
What I remember about most of the units without fun and engaging activities is boredom, and the occasional failure. I learned how to cope and I learned how to learn from it.
Boredom has its place in curricula, as does failure. The lessons of each are invaluable to everything in life in the most literal sense of that cliche.
Without either, how would we measure excitement, or success?
Moral of the story? Use activities, simulations, poster projects — not often, never to exclusion.