Fight Suck

Schools suck the fun out of everything they teach. Do we want schools to suck the fun out of outdoor adventure? -- Peter Gray, Professor of Psychology at Boston College

This quote was posted in Outside the Inside Classroom in relation to the No Child Left Inside Act. The two sentences of the quote each triggered a separate reaction from me: 1) True. 2) But wait... no... but...

I've said before that everything important that I learned as a pre-teen and teenager I learned outside the public school system. And from what I've seen, the majority of public schools, the one I teach at included, have not changed their methods in the last 40 years. This is not to say that some individual teachers have not changed, but on the whole, the entire education system is still entrenched in 19th century teaching. Why is that?

Within my own classroom I work hard to keep the curriculum from boring the students into a stupor. This year I have found it even more challenging due to the fact that I am teaching a high stakes test subject; I have curriculum with strict deadlines. The first week of June, my freshmen will take - and need to pass for graduation - the state biology exam. Trying to maintain momentum, hammer in the vocabulary, run through the chapters, and provide thoughtful reflections and laboratory experiences is wearing me out. It can be done, but it is exhausting, for both me and the students.

One of the reasons I took this particular teaching position over others I was offered was the opportunity to teach Environmental Science. As an environmental scientist I had been teaching adults how to comply with environmental regulations. It seemed to me that a better approach would be to teach younger people the why and how, rather than trying to force an older work force to change habits. Little did I know that the "environmental science" course was simply a dumping ground for students who needed a third science and had were not going to take chemistry or physics. (The course is no longer offered at my school.)

I would love to teach a true environmental sciences course. I volunteer-taught an after-school enrichment program on ecology one year at my children's school. A more expanded and comprehensive program is one I am thinking about, however. The idea of environmental literacy being required was appealing to me until I read Professor Gray's "Schools suck the fun out of everything." If I agree with him, why would I want to support the legislation. On the other hand, my classes don't suck fun.

My thinking on this will continue, and I will post as they come along. It all needs ruminating on for now. In the meantime, I will continue to fight for the fun in valid and authentic learning.

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