Come on teachers, we've got to make it fun!
This morning when I got to school, I found that copies of a "motivational" article had been placed in all of the teachers' mailboxes. The name of the article was Engage Me or Enrage Me, and when I read it, I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or vomit. I hope you'll excuse me for putting it so crudely, but the article really was sickening. I talked to another teacher who said he went and banged his head against a locker a few times after he read it. The point of the article is that we need to make school more fun for the students. The implied message was that if kids aren't performing, it's the schools' and teachers' fault because we haven't engaged them.
The big difference from today is this: the kids back then didn’t expect to be engaged by everything they did. There were no video games, no CDs, no MP3s—none of today’s special effects. Those kids’ lives were a lot less rich—and not just in money: less rich in media, less rich in communication, much less rich in creative opportunities for students outside of school. Many if not most of them never even knew what real engagement feels like.
But today, all kids do. All the students we teach have something in their lives that’s really engaging—something that they do and that they are good at, something that has an engaging, creative component to it. Some may download songs; some may rap, lipsync, or sing karaoke; some may play video games; some may mix songs; some may make movies; and some may do the extreme sports that are possible with twenty-first-century equipment and materials. But they all do something engaging.
A kid interviewed for Yahoo’s 2003 “Born to Be Wired” conference said: “I could have nothing to do, and I’ll find something on the Internet.” Another commented: “Every day after school, I go home and download music—it’s all I do.” Yet another added: “On the Internet, you can play games, you can check your mail, you can talk to your friends, you can buy things, and you can look up things you really like.” Many of today’s third-graders have multiple e-mail addresses. Today’s kids with computers in their homes sit there with scores of windows open, IMing all their friends. Today’s kids without computers typically have a video game console or a GameBoy. Life for today’s kids may be a lot of things—including stressful—but it’s certainly not unengaging.
Except in school.
And there it is so boring that the kids, used to this other life, just can’t stand it.
The article closes on this rather ominous note:
And if we educators don’t start coming up with some damned good curricular gameplay for our students—and soon—they’ll all come to school wearing (at least virtually in their minds) the T-shirt I recently saw a kid wearing in New York City: “It’s Not ADD—I’m Just Not Listening!”
So hi there, I’m the tuned-out kid in the back row with the headphones. Are you going to engage me today or enrage me? The choice is yours.
It would be bad enough if an article like this was simply misguided, but it actually goes beyond that--it's harmful. When people with common sense hear this type of thinking coming from our schools, it makes us all look like a bunch of crackpots. What's worse is that it reinforces a counter-productive message that has been prevalent in our society for too long: non-performers are victims. It isn't their jobs to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and start working; it is the job of the school to try harder to reach them.
This article had me shaking my head and grinding my teeth every time I thought of it during the morning, but then in the afternoon, I got this email from a colleague that had me laughing so hard I had tears running down my face. Here it is:
Dennis, thanks for putting the article in my box this morning. You are right, that article nailed it; we do need to really try and make learning fun. I was delusional to expect my students to pay attention to me and the material I am presenting when they have so many other entertainment options like I-pods and Game Boys. Just because time-management, politeness and responsibility are important to me and employers doesn't mean we should sacrifice fun. I'm sure that even though it sounds a little humiliating to have to dance like a trained monkey in order to keep an impolite kid who has been ignoring me "tuned in" rather than in a rage (threatening sounding) it probably is better to sacrifice quality and quantity. Let's face it, thinking and learning is awfully difficult, and how on earth do we plan do keep all of these kids happy and alive with the delusion that the real world works like this if they have to read, think and be responsible for part of the day?
Maybe we could talk this over at a staff meeting, where we could discuss some ways to incorporate video games into our classes. I put in your name for the "Let's Put the F in Fun in the Classroom Committee". Other ideas that may be entertaining for the kids.
* Teaching through puppets day
* Stuffed animals for hugging if a student is having a bad day
*Pink Floyd and pot day ( if we're letting them have I-pods on, we might as well let them do other things they aren't supposed to do)
* Teaching through "Ole and Lena joke" day
I'm not sure what the educational value is of any of these days, but dog gone it, they might keep the kids "tuned in".