The Washington Post wrote an editorial about funding being given to schools to cope with the loss in learning from Covid. Money will be allocated to helping the physical plant of some schools, to increase staffing, and above all, to work on the learning gap via individualized tutoring. As the Post points out, all are laudible goals, and each of them seems reasonable and helpful. They do not however address the underlying problem that Covid created: a sense in many students’ minds that education is tedious and irrelevant.
Allow me to insert a clip from one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes, “The Power of Three.” where the writer, Chris Chibnall effectively editorializes on our unquestioning use of cell phones, our tacit acceptance of all thoughts and actions being in some way monitored.
I see this episode as a warning, about what happens when we cease to question whether the new is necessarily healthy, and what long term consequences might come.
Back to today…
They all hold phones, so the answers for anything and everything are a google search away. They all know about AI, so essay writing seems irrelevant. They all know that computers and calculators are far more capable. They also know that college is competitive, cost prohibitive in many cases, and does not guarantee a livable wage that lets one move out of one’s parents’ basement years after graduating. So being adolescents with short memories and short life experiences, who value practical application of anything, they do not see the point or value –after all, they missed two years of instruction and still moved on with minimal effort –why give more now?
It is the hardest question in education to answer. What is my motivation –if it is not internal?
Students today do not see the intrinsic value of a system that keeps changing, and that does not have a result that equates with their values or the long term value it purports to offer that has not proven true. When we think we have all the answers, we cease to ask questions.
The beginning of having access to everything was wonderful, and it remained so for a while. However the desire to be entertained, led to the requirement that everything entertain, until everything became rather dull. The work invovled in struggling, fighting through for understanding, searching for meaning, remained undone, because it seemed unnecessary.
Experience and testing and the grades from assignments bear out some unpleasant constant realities. Many don’t read. Many don’t write. Many don’t turn in work. Most question every assignment’s merit and utility when faced with doing it. Learning however, is not about use, but about discovery and love. Education enkindles passion and imagination, and requires risks and work. Inspiration and iinnovation come from making connections that were not there before, that aren’t the result of algorhythms, but of intellect and heart working in concert.
And thus, some things which should not have been forgotten, have been lost.
Without having lifted a finger, they know also that work is work and they no longer buy into the value of work, for short or long term gain. High school students understand the only jobs they qualify for, are underpaid, and undervalued. Most aspire to gain instant fame and glory and riches by being an influencer –and spend hours scrolling through those who produce for something that entertains and distracts without informing or challenging any of their own preconceptions about themselves or life or the world.
It’s the quesiton every teacher and every adult asks themselves when they are trying to instruct; how do I get them to get that I’m trying to teach them not what to think, but how to think.
Teachers these days get blamed for why kids think what they think. Baloney. Anyone who thinks teachers brainwash has not stepped into a classroom. We don’t command that much power.
A generation raised with zero resistance training, that resists all training, is a feral society. We are becoming such a thing. Birthed in the Covid wake –it was coming, but the time devoted intensively to phones in 2020 and 2021, metastasized the consequences of zero insistence/zero resistance instruction. It left teachers and parents and society unable to marshall sufficient authority or will to push/inspire students beyond what they wish to do. So if they wish to do nothing, they do nothing. They don’t realize what they’re leaving behind in that choice, and it means everything.
All of which leads to the question we’re not asking. How do we show them that learning has value, innate value? How do we make them aspire to be intellectual athletes, academic influencers, and beautiful minds? Maybe tutoring will help with the testing, but what will help them discover “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy?” That’s the question.
P.S. Lest anyone think I’ve despaired, know that I’m asking because I want to somehow help my students understand the reality of how books are bigger on the inside, and minds too. It’s that we’re all going to have to show them the necessity of beauty, of work, and of knowing –and that’s a differnt type of teaching than just the content of any curriculum.