I hate school.
I don’t want to go to school.
Have your kids ever said those things?
One way I judge the validity of ideas in books or documentaries is if they match up with what I’m hearing or experiencing personally. It’s not just me, lots of people are experiencing the same thing. It’s a bigger problem than I thought.
There are several ideas in Most Likely to Succeed, a documentary based on the book, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, that really resonated with me.
To begin with, my kids started disliking school around the same age as the daughter in the film, somewhere around 3rd-5th grade. Before that, they varied between liking and even loving school.
The enjoyment of school was something that I was conscious about early on in their schooling. It was important to me. It first came up when we were deciding whether or not to send our kids to private preschool. The watershed moment was when my husband and I realized that we had both loved preschool. Neither one of us had particularly liked school by the time we were in first grade, but we loved preschool. (I really, really, really disliked school. That’s why I kept going until I was 26. But that’s another story.) When it came to preschool, why would we deny our kids an experience we loved? So even though I had not been a flashcard or sign-language teaching mom (or perhaps a little because of my guilt at not being one), our kids went to preschool.
When our kids were in public school and we had those parent teacher conferences, I often wondered what the teachers thought of my questions. I wasn’t concerned about any of their standardized test scores. (I admit it probably helped that there were rarely any issues there.) I was more concerned about whether or not they seemed engaged, if they were having fun, and if they were negotiating friendships.
Even so, they liked school less as time went on. And it wasn’t just because school became “harder.” I’m sure you’ve heard that as a reason for why kids start disliking school. But the documentary makes a point that all people start out as babies and toddlers who love learning. And have you watched a baby or a toddler learn something? Really watched them? Because they are working hard.
I remember seeing my first baby try to learn how to grasp a toy. Just as he was reaching that stage, I had read about all the skills a baby had to master to accomplish the task – eyesight focusing, depth perception, moving the muscles of the arm in the right direction, making the fingers close, etc. It was fascinating to watch him going through the steps, first looking at an object, then his arm jerking as he looked at the object, progressing to batting at the object, and finally grabbing it!
And come on, haven’t you seen how hard a toddler works to learn to walk? And how about the fact that all babies learn a new (to them) language?
I would also argue that the most difficult tasks take place early in school, in kindergarten and first grade, not high school. A child has to make the connection that marks on a page are a code, that tells them what sounds to combine in their head to make words, that they can speak and string into sentences! Once again they have to struggle to make their arms and hands do something new, to write that special “code.” And other marks are a special code for counting, and taking things away, and dividing up a birthday cake. I would argue that these are skills that require the biggest leap in understanding, not memorizing a bunch of history dates.
The documentary has a graph that shows a measure of how kids love of learning and how creative they are at different ages. Both decrease with years spent in school. That’s a graph that has data I believe, because it matches up with my own experiences.
When our second child was in 4th grade, our school introduced a voluntary, faster-paced program. The week had a “project day” and sped up the curriculum the other four days. Even though it made school “harder,” it made school enjoyable again for her. For awhile.
I’ll just be blunt right here.
None of my kids like school right now.
Even though their grades are fine. (They’re more than fine, in fact.) Even though they have fun in some non-academic extracurriculars. Even though they have many dedicated teachers that they absolutely love.
Our school screened this documentary right after the spring semester started. And all of my kids absolutely dreaded – with an intensity I had not seen before – the start of school after winter break. They were still exhausted after the fall semester. Why are we exhausting our children?
We think it’s important to their success. But is performance in school really important for success? I’ll continued looking at the ideas in the documentary Most Likely to Succeed in my next post.