It had been a long, hot and muggy Chicago summer. I was the principal of a private school that had decided to move to a new building, and I had spent countless hours...
Care Why or Why Care?
After my last post, discussing the critical importance of the ‘why’ question, I received the following feedback:
The need is to CARE about why so many students do not care about knowledge; they care about “fun” and socialization. They have no idea that their time at school is to provide them with information that will shape their future. 40% drop out before completing secondary school… almost 1/2 of the nation is not prepared to lead the nation into the 22nd Century.
The point is well taken. How can we talk about teaching students to critically process information when we struggle to get them to care about the information in the first place?
To put the question a bit differently, how do we, as educators, confront challenges that are, in essence, pre-educational?
What are pre-educational needs? They are the things that a teacher expects to be in place before they begin the lesson. We all are fully aware that there are many things that impact student performance that are not directly connected to teaching. The physical classroom environment itself is a perfect example. Much time is, or should be, devoted to classroom design, which might include something as simple as the shape of the room or appropriate classroom furniture. Studies have shown that even the type of lighting used in the classroom affects student achievement, and no one would expect a high school student to focus on his studies if he or she was given the school desk of a fourth grader. I turn attention to these details pre-educational, in that they must be in place before the teacher ever walks up to the front of the classroom.
In addition, there are other expectations that one assumes will be in place before the lesson begins. We expect students to come both physically and emotionally prepared to learn. On the physical side, we expect them to have had a good breakfast, have brought their books to class, possess a writing instrument, etc. The emotional component not only expects a focused student, but also supposes a certain attitude. We expect students to care about learning.
I fully understand that none of the above is a given. Many schools today do not provide appropriate classroom furniture and many students today walk into class neither physically nor emotionally ready to learn. Every teacher is well aware of these challenges and deals with them on a daily basis. In fact, it is precisely these types of problems that teachers find the most taxing. Pre-educational problems significantly inhibit a teacher’s ability to do what they dreamed of doing, what they were trained to do, what they thought they had been hired to do, and that is to teach.
While the classroom furniture will fall under the domain of the school administrator, and the physical needs of the student should be addressed by the school social worker, the attitude towards learning, and caring about knowledge, must be addressed in the home.
The simple truth is that attitudes are bred by parents. A child who comes from a functional family will unfailingly care about the things that his parents care about, (and children are very good at finding out what their parents care about). In over thirty years of education, I have rarely seen an exception to this rule. But, functional families who care about knowledge seem to be more of an exception these days than the rule. So where does this leave the teacher? Is there a way to deal with this pre-educational challenge within our educational programs? I believe there is. Stay tuned.