I work with a student who is in high school but does not attend any classes. This student is bright, perceptive and capable, but found little, to no meaning in attending school. The subjects and skills had no relevance to what he was interested in or needed. It is through my conversations with him that the following perspective has evolved.
I find some of us are much better than others at “playing along.” Girls, especially, feel rewarded by doing what is expected of them. Therefore, many kids go through the hoops of education without getting very much in return except for a “well done” from parents and teachers. Nothing intrinsically satisfying though.
The difference between school and video games is that video games are purpose-driven, while school is a collection of random chores.
Last time I chatted with “Lynx” we were talking about how students need to feel in danger in order to access to their super powers. Which inspired this meme:
Today, we were basically talking about how every person has an alter ego – a super hero. This is the person who plays make-believe or video games. A bad-ass version of ourselves. The person we imagine telling our boss where to go, or the person who saves the day when someone’s in danger. We all suspect that they are in there and are just waiting on the situation in which we are forced to use them: like the moms who pulled cars off their children. The problem is, life doesn’t work like video games and therefore, our alter egos stay tucked away until we finally stop dreaming of being them.
Ready, Player One? This is what all kids dream about – playing the hero!
What I think education needs to do is to give children a chance to be heroes in every day life. No, don’t dangle a child off the side of the roof hoping one of your little super heroes will save them. I mean find something that the child feels like it’s worth fighting for. Maybe as a class you decide to write your local city Councillor and petition for a new slide at your park. Maybe you have pen pals in retirement home or in another country that you write to.
Instead, what we give students are the equivalent to chores. Add this. Draw this. Summarize that. We take the meaningful context away, so students don’t feel like any of it matters to their own life. The reason for completing these tasks is to avoid getting into trouble, not to accomplish something difficult. What if we phrased math questions as real life problems to solve – meaningful problems, not “How many bananas would be on each tree? type of questions”. Math is entangled with every subject and every atom! Watch this Ted Talk for inspiration and ideas.
The problem, of course, is that these are not tasks that can be completed in a “period.” These types of problems take time to identify and to solve. There will be lots of failure along the way. There will be no exemplar or instructions to follow, often. These things scare teachers and administrators who want to know how to assign marks to tasks. They don’t fall under a single subject’s curriculum. How can we do this?
Just like we set aside time for genius hour, maybe the class sets aside time each day to work on it together? Community Hour? Start with questions. What do you want to know about? What problems are you not okay with? In high school, it should include things that relate to finding a career or developing skills that will be useful on a resume (or in an interview).
I haven’t got all the answers yet, but I do know making school more personally relevant and meaningful is imperative to kids well being, sense of self, and intrinsic enjoyment!
One last thought from Lynx, who is very involved in video games, was that these characters in video games taught him a lot about morals and values. (Check out these League of Legend characters with full backstories and meaningful quotes.) In video games, characters can be healers, tanks (take a lot of damage), DPS (do a lot of damage). These help students identify and define their own alter egos. They identify with these heroes and help shape the hero in themselves. It’s up to us to teach them how to embrace this side of their nature. To give them something important to fight for. Maybe a good activity at the beginning of the year is to find out which character they identify with, create their own personal version of this hero, and use this to inspire their future actions. “What would my hero do in this situation?” Great for moral development as well. It’s so much easier to roleplay someone other than ourselves! I always tell students before they give a presentation to pretend they are someone else – that this is an acting assignment. This gives them permission to let go of some of their personal angst and insecurity and role play a stronger version of themself!
Maybe together we can brainstorm ideas of relevant tasks we have done with our students. Imagine if instead of learning about global issues we brainstormed ways to solve them? What of instead of global issues we started with something closer to home? Community issues? School issues? Personal issues? Government issues? Environmental issues?
Please share your thoughts and ideas below!