Several weeks ago, I saw that many of my teacher friends were sharing an article on Facebook.
The title? “Your kids bored at school? Tell them to get over it.”
Oh boy, I thought, and clicked on the link to see what it was that so many of my friends seemed to agree with.
This author’s argument is that student apathy is one of the biggest problems plaguing education; that teachers cannot be expected to “dazzle and awe” their students for fear of burnout; that students are now consumers and education is now a product, and that if students “aren’t impressed with how it’s packaged, they’re not buying.”
Hudgens–a high school teacher herself–thinks students shouldn’t be such choosy consumers, but should rather be self-motivated to find their own success at school. “It’s a teacher’s job to make learning exciting,” she laments, but, “the world isn’t a video game…and doesn’t always offer fun and exciting paths…through life.”
While I agree with some of this author’s points, such as her goal for students to feel passion toward education and a motivation for life-long learning, I think her writing reflects a trend I’m seeing lately when it comes to the imprecision of language educators use when we talk about our goals for students.
There are a number of things Hudgens seems to conflate. The first is that “this is hard” and “this is boring” are the same thing–and they’re clearly not. When students are disengaged, either something is too hard, or too boring–not both. When they’re not in the zone of proximal development, students are not in a place for learning.
So whose job is it to get them there?
In my view, it is mine–a great principal once told me that “you are the only factor in the classroom you can control.” This is true, and if you’ve ever been in front of 32 teenagers in 8th period, you know you can’t control much of anything in that scenario.
I believe fostering engagement is my job. Once I can get kids hooked on a just-right book, or writing fluently in the zone of proximal development, and they catch the bug of feeling successful in their learning endeavors, engagement is self-sustaining.
The second part of this author’s argument that I disagree with is her belief that students’ rejection of how education is “packaged” is due to their lack of self-motivation. Research on Generation Edge shows that this just isn’t true–Gen Edgers reject standardized education and embrace progressive education because they find more value in the latter. This means that one commenter on the article hit the nail on the head:
I have to agree with this reader. Students recognize, and reject, an old-school emphasis on sit and get. In contrast, they embrace engagement when work is appropriately challenging and authentic.
My final issue with two ideas Hudgens seems to muddle is this one:
Unfortunately in a consumer-oriented educational system, words such as habit and discipline have all but gone by the wayside. We emphasize concepts like differentiation, higher-order thinking, cooperative learning and data-driven instruction over student responsibilities like organization, perseverance and hard work.
To create self-motivated, lifelong learners, our goal must be engagement. And a pedagogy of engagement is not the same thing as teaching that is “fun” or “exciting.”
Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or join her for the Slice of Life Writing Challenge here.