I’ve read books voraciously all my life, and I love writing. The first time anyone commented on this in school was when I was 17, and my English teacher said to me, “I’m really surprised. I had no idea you were such a capable student”. Isn’t it strange that by the time my school recognized and allowed me to demonstrate one of my main passions it was nearly time for me to leave?
I would hazard a guess that like me, your real passions when you were growing up were unrelated to the majority of what you studied in class. Imagine how much better you would be at the things you really care about had you been able to pursue them all day, instead of having to sit through hours of classes that meant nothing to you.
Now imagine instead, a school where students are allowed to pursue whatever activity they want, at their own pace, without constant interruptions from the school bell and a myriad of subjects taught to a shallow superficial standard. Such schools already exist. At Sudbury Valley School, students are allowed to pursue their own interests throughout the course of the day. If they want help or guidance from a teacher, they need only ask for it.
The core philosophy behind this school is that the best learning is done when the student is self-directed and is given responsibility for their own learning.
I followed one student’s story throughout his Sudbury experience, and it seemed quite clear why it is such a successful school. In his own words:
During his time at the school, he went through different phases; first become intensely involved in video games, then playing music, progressing towards socializing, debating, writing essays, and eventually realizing that he had an intense passion for cognitive neuroscience, which came out of thinking about how we perceive music. He then realized he needed to work up to a traditional college education to be able to go into this field, and spent time putting together what he would have to do in order to get accepted by a university
Does it sound like he missed out by going to this school? Does he sound like a self-entitled person who believes that the world owes him a living? Or does he sound like a truly engaged, creative and motivated person?
Every week in these blogs it seems that someone addresses the issue of motivation in education. This generally involves some reference to intrinsic motivation, followed by some vague suggestion about how we could promote motivation in schools.
Here’s a theory of motivation for you: If you don’t want to do something, you won’t be very motivated to do it. Sure, there are ways of getting people to work harder even though they don’t want to do it. Competition can improve performance for example (Stanne, Johnson & Johnson, 1999). But it can also increase cheating (Schwieren & Weichselbaumer, 2011), and is only really effective until students realize that they don’t have to play by those rules anymore. Tragically, I’m sure many people continue to live by this ethos their entire lives, never realizing that co-operation enhances interpersonal attraction, social support, and self esteem (Stanne, Johnson & Johnson, 1999) – things that so many disconnected and isolated people seem to lack.
I hope by now we’re all on the same page. We don’t need anymore factory workers; we don’t need any more automatons. The industrial age is over. Stop treating children like they are products to be assembled on an academic conveyor belt. End depersonalized education, and start allowing children to use the information they have at their fingertips to construct their own unique learning experiences. This has been proven empirically to work. (Mitra & Dangwal, 2010)
Most importantly, lets help children learn the most important lesson of all – that they, and they alone are responsible for their own destiny. Better that they learn that in school than be spat out of university at 21 with a pile of debt, a meaningless degree, and the realization that the life and the dream they were told would be theirs at the end doesn’t exist after all.