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Response to “Paradox of Classroom Boredom”

20 Aug

Sometimes I eagerly read educational posts and other times, I can’t believe someone actually wrote that text. The latter certainly applies to a recent post on Education Week by Mark Bauerlein. In the article (can I even call this an article? post, I’ll call it a post). In the post, Mr. Bauerlein explains to us that high school students are dropping out because they’re bored and unmotivated. So if this is the case, instructional methods must change, right? Okay, so hypothetically that happens, and we engage students and they (GASP!) have fun and are engaged. Now they’re in college, in the boring first-year mandatory courses. And they drop out. Because they’re bored. Whoops, we have a problem.

I am attacking this from several perspectives:

First, the ethical appeal he presents is a one-line, “I teach freshman comp, so trust me, it’s hard to find any academic material students are eager to write about.” I have a hard time with the “trust me.” Why, just because you teach frosh comp? I worked as a supplemental instructor in frosh comp (100, 104, & 105 – so I have a well-rounded experience) for eight semesters as an undergrad. The composition director and her team found very interesting and relevant texts which we used in our program. I also researched and brought in my own material. I both learned and taught a great deal on rhetorical appeals and this “trust me” business isn’t flying.

Second, high school students are still kids. Disregard the ‘they’re getting ready for the real world’ thought and focus on their age. As a young adult, high school students require a certain degree of stimulation or engagement. Granted not every class has to be fun and games 24/7 (in fact, they shouldn’t be), but kids just want to have some fun. As educators it is our responsibility to meet students where they are. I look forward to the challenges involved in determining individual abilities and interests.

Third, the author pointing the finger at high school is like the pot calling the kettle black. Who exactly determined that the ‘problem’ lies with high school? I’m open to a conversation in which we discuss how higher education requires change. If high school students need to be engaged in order to learn, then assume first-year college students require this as well. Make a compromise and meet students halfway. There are so many possibilities, one specifically being that college instructors plan group and peer activities along with their favorite method: lectures. Acclimate students to the collegiate environment while still providing engaging instruction.

I have a difficult time seeing the logic in some posts on educational sites or printed copy that make arguments for boring high school students so they don’t drop out. Mr. Bauerlein offers a final nugget of advice: “Boredom is not always something to be avoided. It is to be accepted and worked through.” Yes, sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, and this is absolutely a skill that high school students need to learn. But to remove all engagement and excitement? If you can’t get a kid excited about learning in high school, what makes you think he or she will develop that excitement in the first year of college?

After reading the original article (link here) and some of the comments on the original post, what are your thoughts? Do you agree? Agree with a difference? I’d love to hear your thoughts and develop a conversation about high school engagement. Let me know in the comments below!

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