Sunday, March 23, 2014

Is boredom the real epidemic in our schools?

Me and my mother
I was at a large conference in the fall when the presenter asked the audience of more than 1000 educators to say the first word that comes to mind when thinking of high school. As if rehearsed for church choir, the audience responded.

Their answer? 


I was thinking, wow! We all know this truth yet seem to accept it as just the way things are. When I tell this to other educators, some push back sharing all sorts of positive memories they had of high school. Still that doesn't negate the fact that a room full of pedagogical strangers came up with one answer to describe their high school experience. This hit home for me. 

When I was just three years old, my mother was called into my pre-school because they were concerned that there was something seriously wrong with me. In fact among other things they thought I might be "retarded." The conclusion was made based on warning signs they observed such as my not paying attention in class.  Fortunately, my mother got a second opinion and found the cause behind my lack of focus wasn't a mental condition, but in short, it was simply that I was bored. 

You can hear the story from my mother here:

It's not unusual for a child who is simply bored in class to be labeled with a number of issues. Take for example, Aaron Iba. If you haven't heard of Aaron, he's the guy behind a cool product that used to be called EtherPad. It was sort of like Google Docs, but better, so Google threw several million bucks his way, bought the product and hired him. 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Aaron who shared with me that the only year in school he enjoyed was fourth grade because his teacher got out of his way and allowed him to sit in his own space in the classroom doing logo programming. Iba laments that he is just not the type of person who could sit back passively listening to a teacher trying to impart knowledge. He liked interactivity and engagement which was why that year stood out. He had control over his own learning and technology provided immediate stimuli / response / gratification. 

His school saw things differently.  Here is an excerpt from the report his parents received when he was just seven years old.

Both Aaron and I escaped school with parents who didn't cave in to medicating the enthusiasm out of us, but not all students are so lucky. When high school couldn't keep the attention of Nick Perez, they succeeded in getting a hold of him and drugging him beginning at nine years old. They said his failure to be interested in what they wanted him to learn was a symptom of ADD. He was given a series of drugs throughout the remainder of his school life resulting in seizures, vomiting, and heart issues. Eventually Nick refused to endure the torture and simply left school so he could pursue his passion of computer programming. Today, he is off drugs and happily employed as a successful computer programmer. You can read his story here

It is time we rethink the environments in which we are raising our children and what our priorities are. Are our schools places that provide an environment where childhood can be a happy time full of wonder and exploration? What does that look like and what would it take to make that a reality for children?

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