Parent: I want my child moved to the other 5th grade.
Parent: Because the teacher in the other 5th grade, Mrs. Jones, is a much better teacher.
Principal: You know I just can’t move around children.
Parent: I understand, and I’m only asking this one time. And, by the way, why does my child always gets the inferior teacher?
Principal: I don’t understand why you think Mrs. Jones is a better teacher. Your child’s current teacher is an excellent educator. Your child’s excellent standardized test scores prove he is learning a tremendous amount.
Parent: Yes, but Mrs. Jones is so much more fun. After all, isn’t making learning fun more important than what they actually learn?
I’m not sure what the principal answered our disgruntled parent but the question remains: is having fun while learning more important than the material actually learned? Very few would argue that both are important and that any teacher who manages to combine a thorough knowledge of the subject matter with an exciting learning environment has certainly mastered his or her craft. But, if one had to choose, and many times we must, which would it be? Do we prefer the teacher who has made science fun and has inspired the students to enjoy coming to class – but has only covered half the curriculum – or the demanding authoritarian, who thoroughly covers the material, but isn’t nearly as exciting?
While the above choices are not usually as clear-cut as outlined above, one could convincingly argue that our main educational objective should be inspiring children to become ‘life-long learners’. In the end result, what we might be able to teach students in any one school year pales in comparison to the amount they might learn if inspired to pursue knowledge in that subject area for the remainder of their lives. Additionally, any and all knowledge gains quickly fade into oblivion when not reviewed, leading us to seriously question the value of ‘covered curriculum’ that students learn but are not inspired to further investigate.
It would therefore seem that the interest in the subject engendered by our fun teacher easily atones for the lack of material covered. And, we should not be too impressed with the teacher who reached all benchmark goals but in his insistence on doing so has made learning burdensome to students.
However, it is not as simple as it seems. While, at first glance, we would imagine that making learning fun would lead to a life-long passion for the subject, this is not necessarily true. One could just as convincingly argue that it is proficiency and mastery of a subject that create the life-long interest we seek. Teachers who work students hard, but make sure that at the end of the day they know – really know – the material, will actually have a greater success rate generating enduring knowledge.
No one is arguing that fun does not have a place in the classroom. What is being argued is that fun should be the handmaiden of genuine knowledge, not the other way around. Educational inspiration that is not anchored in significant academic achievement quickly loses its relevance and will not stand the test of time. Fun will always be fun, but real learning is the true reward.
The true barometer to long term educational success is not the amount of fun experienced in the classroom but the level of academic proficiency achieved.