Changing a system we created in the first place.

Is that what we want? Kids who get straight As but hate learning?

The question above is from an excerpt from Jessica Lahey’s book “The Gift of Failure  in this article from The Atlantic poses that very question.

Prefacing that question comes a story about a student names Maureen, whose mother is worried about the fact that her daughter seems to have lost her love of learning.  The author is wondering what to tell this parent, and ultimately decides to tell her the truth.

The truth—for this parent and so many others—is this: Her child has sacrificed her natural curiosity and love of learning at the altar of achievement, and it’s our fault. Marianna’s parents, her teachers, society at large—we are all implicated in this crime against learning. From her first day of school, we pointed her toward that altar and trained her to measure her progress by means of points, scores, and awards. We taught Marianna that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character. We taught her to come home proudly bearing As, championship trophies, and college acceptances, and we inadvertently taught her that we don’t really care how she obtains them. We taught her to protect her academic and extracurricular perfection at all costs and that it’s better to quit when things get challenging rather than risk marring that perfect record. Above all else, we taught her to fear failure. That fear is what has destroyed her love of learning.

We can’t forget that the students in front of us are products of a system we created.  What we need to focus on now is how to fix that system.  And I don’t mean with surface, structural changes that don’t get to the heart of the problem – that the way we do school to students must change, where we teach less and give more feedback, setting up learning experiences rather than lessons where students can find out what they love.

Those kinds of changes require changes in mindset and a lot of time and effort, not changes in schedules or grading scales or what report cards look like or any other change schools tend to make that doesn’t directly change learning.

There’s no quick fix to this.  But it all boils down to changing a system we created in the first place.


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