Sunday, January 14, 2007

School is Boring

Dennis Fermoyle's blog post describes how Marc Prensky's article, Engage Me or Enrage Me (2005), was placed in teacher's mailboxes, presumably to inspire and motivate the educators. However, it ended up enraging some of the teachers instead. Of course, I had to check it out myself, and had a similar reaction. From the article...
The big difference from today is this: the kids back then didn’t expect to be engaged by everything they did. There were no video games, no CDs, no MP3s—none of today’s special effects. Those kids’ lives were a lot less rich—and not just in money: less rich in media, less rich in communication, much less rich in creative opportunities for students outside of school. Many if not most of them never even knew what real engagement feels like.

I've heard this from veteran teachers. They talk about the frustration of "competing" with students' multimedia outside world.
Life for today’s kids may be a lot of things—including stressful—but it’s certainly not unengaging.

Except in school.

And there it is so boring that the kids, used to this other life, just can’t stand it.

In fact, kids often seem over-engaged. The only time they get to relax is in school, and many kids take this mental vacation to new heights during school hours.

Yesterday’s education for tomorrow’s kids. Where is the programming, the genomics, the bioethics, the nanotech—the stuff of their time? It’s not there. Not even once a week on Fridays.

That’s one more reason the kids are so enraged—they know their stuff is missing!

I might argue against that. Do they really know that their stuff is missing? Or do they only know they want something different?
The fact is that even if you are the most engaging old-style teacher in the world, you are not going to capture most of our students’ attention the old way. “Their short attention spans,” as one professor put it, “are [only] for the old ways of learning.” They certainly don’t have short attention spans for their games, movies, music, or Internet surfing. More and more, they just don’t tolerate the old ways—and they are enraged we are not doing better by them.

And if we educators don’t start coming up with some damned good curricular gameplay for our students—and soon—they’ll all come to school wearing (at least virtually in their minds) the T-shirt I recently saw a kid wearing in New York City: “It’s Not ADD—I’m Just Not Listening!”

Whew. It's tough just to pick out a few parts of that article to comment on. It is rather enraging. I frequently remind students that I am not "a paid entertainer" and part of the responsibility to make things interesting rests on their shoulders. I don't think it is acceptable for students to sit back and to send the message, "Engage me or Enrage me."

However, I do see some valid points to the article. The world IS changing, and education should be forced to change with it. However, as with any innovation, there needs to be time, money and support.

I use various technologies in my classroom. I have been using digital video, internet simulations and powerpoint lessons for years. I am currently looking into implementing blogs, wikis, and Flash into my curriculum. However, I struggle with the time. From the moment I wake up at 4 am, until I leave school at 6 pm or later, I am racing around. I can only imagine what I might be able to come up with given an uninterrupted chunk of time with similarly-minded professionals. We have a lot of good ideas inside of us, but not the time to flush them out.

Money is also an issue. Teachers need experts to train them. However, what would be the motivation for a technology expert to accept a position in a school district for $50,000 a year, when they can make that much in 6 or 7 weeks in a lucrative tech field? From limited personal experience, this is a growing problem, as science and technology trained professionals leave teaching to pursue more appropriate compensation for their talents. Schools also need money to upgrade their equipment. Prensky demands "some damned good curricular gameplay." We need the equipment and network to support it. To implement technology to the extent to which Prensky refers, we need more that a few computer carts for schools 500+ kids. And, as the technology gets more interactive, the strain on the limited systems will become more pronounced.

And, most importantly, there needs to be support. Prensky asks, "Where is the programming, the genomics, the bioethics, the nanotech—the stuff of their time? " It's out there, but teachers can't yet grasp it. When a technology start-up encounters an area of non-expertise, what do they do? They secure additional funding and hire a consultant. However, across the country, school district budgets are being slashed. Just as a start-up would not ask a non-expert to waste their time muddling through a problem they cannot solve, teachers should not be held responsible for being unable to integrate such technology into the current curriculum. Provide us with the expertise, the training and the time to learn, and I am sure we would see more invigorating results.

Prensky, while initially raising the hairs on the back of my neck, makes some very valid points. Education does have to change. But in order to do so, the current time and funding structures will have to change as well.
An African proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, it's going to take a whole lot more than just teachers to change education. But with the necessary resources, we are up for the challenge!

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