“How can we make learning fun?”
Does this question sound familiar? Policymakers, parents, teachers and politicians ask it constantly. How can we make learning engaging? How can we make lessons relevant to students? How can we get kids to pay attention and make an effort? It’s not like no one’s been trying to fix this problem–so why does it persist? Easy: because we’re trying to answer the wrong question. When we ask how to make learning fun, we’re begging the question: learning doesn’t need to be made fun, it already is! Instead of asking “how can we make learning fun,” what we should be asking is “why do we believe that learning can’t be its own reward?” In other words: how are we sabotaging the natural learning process, and what can we do to support it instead?
The American institution of public schooling is considered one of our greatest strengths–but why? What is the purpose of schools, and why do we force our children to attend them? The response you’ll most often hear is that school prepares our students for the task they must all ultimately undertake of being successful, responsible adults–that’s what we usually mean by the term education. Yet there is an odd contradiction implicit in this attitude: if the purpose of education is to prepare children for the “real world”, then why do we need schools? It’s generally understood that the schools themselves are not the “real world”, so they must necessarily be artificial worlds: invented realities designed to shelter our children from the responsibilities of adulthood until they are “ready” for them. It is no great secret that experiential learning is by far the most effective kind, yet the fierce irony of preparing our children for the “real world” by sequestering them from it entirely goes apparently unnoticed. This idea of preparing our children to be adults by treating them like anything but–what I call the “real world” fallacy–is a perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with our current way of thinking about school, education, and children in general.
I’ve mentioned this essay in one of my previous posts, but I think it’s worth calling special attention to. You should read this essay if:
- You loathe mathematics
- You adore mathematics
- You’re indifferent to mathematics and don’t see what all the fuss is about either way
Lockhart uses a clear and witty style to describe what he considers the biggest problem with contemporary mathematics education: namely, the complete lack of mathematics. A lot of his points are equally applicable to all areas of education, not just math! It was a real eye-opener for me when I first read it, and I hope it will be for you, too.
P.S.: The original link appears to have been taken down, so I’ve replaced it with a different one. This is the link where I first found it.