Is school is the worst place to learn?

One of my favorite parts of my day is watching my son, Nick, learn. He is our youngest at 8 years old, and to him, the world is the classroom. Here are just a few of the many things I’ve watched him learn on his own in the past few weeks:

  • What a tunnel boring machine is and what it is used for (from his Lego set)
  • What the skin of a Zebra shark feels like (trip to the zoo)
  • That shell of an egg is semi-permeable (he noticed Easter egg dye that seeped through onto the white part)
  • What a Chinese Yuan is and what it looks like (friend gave him one)
  • How the angle of a golf club head affects loft (stole a few clubs from the shed and was hacking away)
  • The life cycle of the sun (YouTube)
  • That a football flies farther when it spins, because it “cuts” the air
  • What the “beat” of a song is (he was trying to stomp along)
  • What the inner workings of a clock look like, and how gears work together (he took an old one apart)
  • Who Steve Jobs was (saw a video on YouTube)
  • That dogs dream just like people do (our pooch growling and barking in his sleep)
  • That England, France, and Germany are in Europe, which is across the Atlantic Ocean (Sherlock, Doctor Who)
  • How to divide complex numbers by continuing to cut amounts in half (Minecraft)
  • That rain collects dirt and dust sometimes before it hits the earth (observed by tasting some yucky tasting rain)
  • What an Iguanadon and a Compsognathus are (Jurassic Park game)
  • What a Senator does (Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace)
  • The words “cabeza” and “pimento” (SkippyJon Jones Book)
  • How erosion works (observed how some parts of the bricks near our house are worn down)

Bmz02SeIAAAf6sTNick plans his own curriculum and learning targets. He realizes there are many ways to figure something out and to know things. Left to himself, his mission is to find out anything he wonders about, and he wonders about a lot.  Sounds like a pretty bright kid, huh?

This is a child who is on an IEP and he struggles in school. When it comes to school, he feels stupid. What breaks my heart is that this kid is a sponge. He is constantly asking questions, performing experiments, reading or looking through fiction and nonfiction books. It is common to watch him greedily seek knowledge actively for 4-5 hours straight…

..but he hates school. Maybe not every minute of it, but he dislikes enough of it to tell me daily that he wished he never had to go to school. Everything is so boring, he tells me. He’s not too smart, he tells me. His teacher explains that he generally works hard and learns, but it’s clear talking to him that he goes through the motions at school so he can eventually come home and learn. He is not gifted and talented (in a school sense); his boredom comes from some other place. To him working from a sheet while sitting in a desk in a row in a quiet room isn’t learning, it’s punishment.

How many other students bide time through school until they can learn from the world? The longer I teach, the more I think engagement and fun are the keys to positive school reform, rather than learning targets or common assessments. School has, in many ways, become a business, and kids all over the country have noticed. Nick’s experience isn’t rare. As Common Core standards, benchmarks, and testing have swept the nation, it isn’t the school that is being reformed, but the learners themselves.

My hope is that strong administrators and creative, caring teachers can find the strength to preserve the fun of learning in the sea of standards. I hope that experiential education and project-based learning make a comeback, and that at some point education can become about learning and not about performing, achieving, or scoring.



One thought on “Is school is the worst place to learn?

  1. My irritation, admittedly, increased throughout the reading of the post, until I read the last two paragraphs. This is a basic explanation of the REAL issue in Ed reform and I thank you for talking about it this way.
    Normally, the teachers and schools are blamed: “My child is so smart at home but the teachers…” “My child says s/he hates school; I think if the teachers would just…”
    This is where I thought the post was going. However, I appreciate that you have identified the real problem: the system in which we have to teach.
    I would love to take students on field trips. I benefitted a great deal from field trips in school as well as the trips my mother introduced me to often.
    Road trips are where I learned to read a map and the placement of the sun.
    Road trips are where I read myriad books in the backseat and began creating stories based on the changing scenery and environment around me. This is where my vocabulary grew and my cultural relativity blossomed.
    However, every year that I have taught…field trips have either been banned (money) or very poor in quality (we went to the movies to see “Freedom Writers”…horrible).
    Moreover, as I sat in the testing room just last week proctoring, I thought about the paradox of education: teachers are told to prepare students for the world, but are graded on a test that evaluates nothing based on said world’s expectations.
    Simply put, this has to stop. Great post, sir.

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