I recently overheard a conversation in which two teachers were discussing a particular student that came to school and simply "existed." He didn't engage, didn't turn work in, and didn't seem to have any interest in learning. The conversation ended with: "Why does he even come to school?"
It is easy to jump into teacher mode to answer that question. We see the value in life-long learning and the intrinsic value of education. We know that sometimes, the stuff we learn in school does come back to haunt us. But, many times, much of what we're teaching kids (the curriculum) won't come back around, especially in the sciences.
So, my question is, who is at fault? Is it the student's fault for not caring, or is it my fault for poor teaching?
Why are the mitochondria important? What does it matter to me if plant cells use sunlight to smash carbon dioxide and water into sugars? What is so special about DNA?
These are questions kids ask every day in their heads, and they're questions we tend to gloss over.
I believe part of the answer to this problem lies in choice. When content is dictated and isolated, we're taking away opportunities for deeper questions. But, part of changing that paradigm is giving up some control. We have to be okay with kids asking hard questions...even questions we don't know the answer to. Push learning by taking seemingly unrelated concepts and asking the kids to synthesize and theorize the connections. Celebrate mistakes and failure; encourage collaboration and debate.
We are partially responsible for the disengagement of many kids in our schools. The plow through finals week has been bringing me back to that truth. I keep asking myself why we put kids through a multiple choice test to see what they know. Even essay questions are limited in scope as they still rely on recall of facts.
I would much rather see what they can do. But, that transition is difficult...and scary.
I don't know the student from the story at the top of the page, but I do have students that are in similar places. Disconnected, irrelevant information isn't interesting to them...why is that such a surprise? The times I've given choice and freedom are when I've gotten some great response. I'm still responsible for dragging a few through the mud, but at least they're more open to letting me drag them.