Monday, May 14, 2018

Sorry to Say, But School Is Boring


“A lack of education is the mother of all suffering.”
Aristotle, Pythagoras 2.31.96 

Most students today find that school is boring, and it has been for some time. [see here and here and here and here]. There are many reasons offered by pedagogues and teachers, but if you listen to the students, they say that there is not enough classroom discussion, teachers lecture (drone on) too much, teaching what is called “for the test,” and there is really too much testing. Such a combination would make any classroom boring. In other words, school has become primarily (if not only) about taking tests. Wow, this is not education!

No wonder that by the time they are in Grade 10, it becomes increasingly difficult to sit there in boredom. I daresay no one could, without any incentive (like money) to do so. Even that might not be enough. Think of all the boring business meetings and conferences you have attended in your life.

There is also what is being taught, which starts in the younger grades. Schoolchildren, for the most part are being taught to serve, Neil Postman writes in The End of Education (1995), “the false gods” of modern education—economic utility, consumerism and technology—all geared to the ideas inherent in American capitalism and its corporate interests, of making every individual into bound, obedient, willing consumers, who know how to “write code.” So can a machine. Or, to be plugged into jobs that companies say will be needed in 10 or 15 years—as if companies (employers) can predict such things. You and I know they can’t.

The “need” for greater specialization in so many fields or disciplines is itself a symptom of a certain way of societal thinking that is itself problematic, lacking an understanding of humaneness, thus forcing people to become narrower and narrower in their thinking. One result is that persons become dispassionate human automatons. An example is the emphasis on STEM education, or in some cases, STEAM (the addition of Art), which my youngest son’s school started to promote when he was in Grade 3. While I myself studied and worked in engineering a number of years ago, it came about on my own, without any emphasis from school, without any programs like STEM or STEAM. This way worked fine for hundreds of years.

Education ought to have a purpose beyond gainful employment, as shocking as this sounds to some people. If information is not anchored in a grand transcendent narrative, such as is found in the Bible, in Great Literary Works, in Art, in Music, in the pursuit of knowledge and a moral education, it becomes discarded eventually as information overload. This is obviously true in science and technology, where new information replaces old, but it is also true (sadly so) today in the humanities (e.g. philosophy, religion, literature, art, music), where you would expect otherwise.

It does not get much better in university, where in the humanities theory has overtaken any love of reading literature or of listening to music, with the result that “the humanities” has become politicized for narrower and narrower interests. The grand narrative and the grand moral vision that long marked the humanities and a liberal arts education has been shelved and forgotten—seen as part of an old social order—as has been the understanding of human moral failings, and what is required to have a humane society. It is hard to find meaning in any modern humanities course offered today, but there is sure enough blame to go around. Students are often angry and disappointed in their education, but they have every reason to be, since they have been sold a false bill of goods.

Moreover, I do not think creativity can be taught, though it can be encouraged, but not in today’s classroom, which is overly programmed. Which makes me think how much spontaneous fun and creativity there is in most schools, when classroom discussion is limited so as to move on to the next lesson of a government-mandated curriculum. There is also a high degree of conformity in what is expected in the way of thought, which is not surprising given the way society is today structured and the way teachers themselves are taught. Where is the emotion? Where is the passion?

If teachers hate teaching (many do!), and if teachers have no passion for knowledge (many don’t!), students will quickly notice. Small wonder, then, that many kids say school is boring, and understandably so, because the way my oldest son, in Grade 10, describe his day, it seems like he is in a “house of detention.” Shame on the adults, the pedagogues who attend conferences, taking every faddish idea back with them, and yet know nothing about their students, whom, by their mulishness and foolishness, are failing the minds of the young, by not properly educating them. School is boring, but education is not. There is a better way. [e.g., see my idea, “A Plan for Education;” April 7, 2015]