Monday, January 30, 2012

Tryin' to Make Sense of Passion

I recently read a blog post titled "Rant," by Lisa Cooley (@coollit), that got me thinking. Lisa Cooley states, "If you allow children to learn what is closest to their hearts, they will much more willingly learn what you prescribe for them. I don't reject the need for kids to learn what we know is important. I'm talking about creating a system based on trust."

I have three children. My two oldest are boys, ages 9 and 7. My daughter is 4. Both of my boys love math. One also loves to read and play sports, while the other loves to build and create art. When asked what they are passionate about, they will tell you all of this and more... science, frogs, animals, planets, music, etc. They are interested in subjects that they have been exposed to through school, conversations, boy scouts, traveling, the Internet, books, family and friends, and us, their parents. The fact that kids should be allowed to explore subjects that they are passionate about is very important to me as a mom and teacher, but I think that we are afraid that if we let this happen we will "lower the standards" somehow, or will have young people who do not know "enough."


How would I have known my sons were passionate about math and soccer if they were not exposed to both?
If my son does not like to read, and is not passionate about it, do I make him?
If my son does not want to learn how to play an instrument, do I encourage him?
Do I wait?
Do we have foundations that all students are exposed to, regardless of passions, as a starting point?
Should our children learn things they are not passionate about?

Today while at the park, my two youngest children took turns playing with my husband and I while my oldest son received goalie training from his soccer coach. He did not have to be there today. This was not a team practice. His coach invited him, and he, excitedly, said yes. While we were finishing up, a high school girl arrived for her upcoming session with the same coach.


What drives young people to give up their free time on a Sunday to work on their soccer skills voluntarily?
Would they do that for school?

A student of mine wrote a blog post about how the game Civilization would be great for teaching and mastering middle school history standards (on his own without being "assigned").


What inspired him to research and write about this topic without being offered points?
Did he learn?
How do we know?
Should this "count" as education, even though it is not written into the curriculum, and his classmates did not do the same assignment?

Deven Black (@devenkblack) tweeted from #Educon, "What should every citizen be able to do?" This is a great question, and something I have thought a lot about.


If this is an essential question, what does education look like? What does learning look like? What does curriculum look like?
Do my children need to learn the same things as other children?
Did I learn the same things as my classmates?
Do I need to know the same things in my daily life as my friends, colleagues, family members, and fellow citizens?
Should I?
What questions should we be asking about education, democracy, problem solving, and leadership?

I teach English grades 7-10 in a blended learning environment. I create curriculum for my students, and although I firmly believe not all curriculum should be complete before we meet our students, and that their passions and interests should guide my work, I am working hard on creating curriculum for future students, those I have not yet met. I am completely aware that my own interests, passions, and biases influence what I teach. When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a science teacher because my science teachers inspired me, I liked them, and they made learning fun. Science is in my blood (my dad was a veterinarian, and my grandfather an entomologist), but it is not something I am passionate about. 


If I were encouraged to study science, rather than allowed to choose humanities, would I have gotten stronger?
Would I have learned to love it?

Tonight, Sunday night, after my kids have fallen asleep, I stay up to write this post. I was not asked to do this. I am passionate about learning and education, and wanted to make sense of some of the things I was reading. Did I do this as a middle or high school student? Looking back, I do not remember being so inspired by school that I researched and wrote about it without being asked. I read. I wrote in my journal. I explored my neighborhood. I hung out with friends. I also went to museums, sporting events, and day trips because I wanted to learn. I gave up my free time for sports. Perhaps, at the time, I did not see the connection between learning, passion, and school.


If we require our students to learn, regardless of passion, will they acquire a love learning?
How can we help our young people discover their passions?
Are we afraid to let students learn based on passion alone?
Should we be?