To what extent are children’s imaginations being engaged by going to school? If you ask the children, it’s not much. Our educational institutions are perfectly designed for what they are producing: bored failure.
Consider it from the perspective of the young student. They are being forced to go to school. They are bored by school. They come to hate it. Their priority in school is friends, sports and studies — always in that order. Administrators and teachers try to reverse the order with little success. In this context, students learn little.
Why are we surprised by this? There are no businesses that would survive for long where their customers are coerced to buy a product or service they don’t want and that proves to be ineffective. Yet this is the daily reality for most students. It is time to listen to the kids.
Educators know that you only learn what you love. It cannot be coerced. To fall in love with a subject — just like all other relationships — requires indirection … wooing and courting. This is not exactly the attitude most teachers are taking with their students. Before students care how much the teacher knows, the student must know how much the teacher cares. The learning process needs to be a safe place, where they are seen. The student’s security and significance needs must be addressed first. With repeated patterns of bad experiences, it might take time to get the natural and understandable defensive walls of the student to come down so that they are in a posture capable of learning.
We also know that you only learn what is meaningful. It must be relevant to me right now. Before something can be true or false, it must first mean. We have an educational system focused on how and what but never why. Yet it is the why questions that are the onramp to learning. An education without an onramp will have a hard time getting a student going in the learning process.
Reason is the way to assess truth. The imagination is the way to achieve meaning. An education without engaging the imagination is thus a meaningless education. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is the author of “The Little Prince.” This is the most widely published book in the world outside the Bible. Saint-Exupéry sympathized with bored students being coerced by a meaningless education.
He wrote wisely, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
We need to enchant our students with the task of learning. We must engage our student’s imaginations about their field of instruction.
As parents we must find schools where engaging the student’s imagination is a priority, schools where fostering a love of learning is a conscious effort. Schools where students long for the “endless immensity of the sea.” It is rare today. But it is possible. Students know the difference.