“Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage. Such wisdom of the ages, penned by American wit Ambrose Bierce, can be easily adapted to learning as well. We might say, “Learning is a love affair of the intellect, significantly diminished only by constant exposure to school.”
As the summer months roll in, there is a palatable sense of excitement in the air. Students count the minutes until that final bell rings; quite different from teachers and administrators who count the seconds. I once heard someone say that schools are the only environment in which everyone in attendance would rather be somewhere else; OK, schools and graveyards. Of course there are notable exceptions, but the rule holds fast to such an extent that it behooves us to question if it really has to be this way.
While one could argue that children are simply too immature to appreciate the value of a good education, that would not seem to explain the extent of the phenomena. It also does not explain the fact that teachers welcome vacations, indeed need vacations, to an extent unknown in just about any other profession. When your vacation days start to rival those of the US Congress, you know you have some explaining to do. Why does it seem to be such a significant investment of effort for students to learn and for teachers to teach?
We could easily ignore the question. After all, teachers are teaching and students are learning. Educational programs more or less work and there are sufficient success stories to somewhat justify keeping current systems as they are. Historical precedent may even support the fact that this is simply the way it’s always been. Statements that compare speed of departure to a child running from the classroom can be found in literature dating to the first millennia. We are far from the first culture to suffer from crowded classrooms, disinterested students and burn-out teachers. So I guess I should rethink and wonder if we should bother asking this question at all.
I think we must ask, mostly because the price we pay for individual failure has risen significantly. Students who do not succeed in school cannot simply return to the farm. When a student drops out of school we are not sentencing them to a life of working the fields and milking cows, but largely to a life of poverty, crime and early death. Students who escape school run an overwhelming risk of losing in life. So, we must care, we must think of solutions.
As I have argued in previous articles, tinkering with the existing system would achieve little. The gulf between our current educational systems and what is needed to excite and inspire much of our youth is too great to be spanned with patch work solutions. New and possibly radical thinking is required. While we certainly do not want to reduce the love children have for summer vacation, we do want to nurture and develop within them the natural love they have for learning. Our future depends on it.