Let’s Stop Doing Things Just To Do Them

If we do it right, students won’t need “fun activities” to spice up the monotony of sitting in seats for an hour at a time all day. If learning new things stops being compulsory, and in a certain order dictated by the teacher, and instead becomes an outgrowth of the students’ innate, bubbling, organic curiosity, then school itself will be something the students crave. No need for the field trip to the aquarium with the throw-away packet of pointless questions the students will rush through so they can move on to finding their friends at the food court.

Instead of taking the leap of faith required to let children direct their own discovery, we periodically filter in diversions that don’t just feel tacked on but truly are. (I suspect we do this because it would be way too personally devastating to face down our own pathological need for control in most aspects of our lives).

We often work together in schools to create elaborate diversions from classroom learning in the supposed pursuit of “extended learning opportunities”, but it quickly turns into trying to squeeze in one more class trip off campus. We never seem to ask ourselves, deeply, in a way that would require more than a cursory 15 seconds of thought, why we’re doing this.

I suspect a 30 day period of adjustment to a “90% Discovery Model” (10% reserved for pointed nudging by an adult in the room whose life wisdom outstrips the kiddos) would look like this. Hold on to your jocky straps:

Yup, it would totally suck for a while. Kids would go bonkers. Wouldn’t you? It would be like being let out of prison.

But then I suspect that over time your “discipline” problems would disappear, and you’d be in a classroom where you weren’t going hoarse every day cajoling kids to follow your directions.

Do we have the moral and political will to actually do this? I think a tiny sliver of us do, but how do you scale that? I suspect technology will be the answer here, allowing thousands of students to learn from a smaller and smaller number of experts, but we’re not there yet with what would be required (holograms anyone?)

I guess I’m just saying that I wish more educators dug deep and sweated the right stuff. We sweat things like who should be put on what bus so that kids don’t fight on the ride to the field trip destination, but that’s a distant echo from what actually matters, and I bet if we all just sat in a room and stared at one another long enough with our very best intentions we’d collectively realize this, go through a period of grieving for all the suffering we’d caused children over our collective careers, and then get to work figuring out something way, way better.

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