Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri, 12 Sep 1997 09:40:12 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Random Thought: Where Has All The Joy Gone?

Nice walk this morning. The hot, stagnating south Georgia summer is letting go and the invigorating, cool touches of fall are strengthening. As each of those wisps of fresh autumn air touched me, I started thinking about a bunch of separate but associated things. I thought about a long conversation I had with a student yesterday. She hadn't cared about really learning anything. Nothing that occurred in class, nothing I had said or done, nothing the other members of her triad or others in the class had said or done had changed her attitude. She just wanted to get a good grade as fast and easy as she could. She wanted the most by doing the least. I thought about a comment a colleague made to me a few days ago as we discussed the beginning of the fall quarter. "Students nowadays," he said, "are failing in their responsibility to learn. And, there isn't much I can do to change that." I thought about several comments I picked up in conversations on the internet: "Students are responsible to make learning happen in the classroom." "Students must bring their own motivation to learn." "Motivation must come with the students." And, as I walked the dark streets of Valdosta, I wondered why the attitude of so, so many students in the course of their educational experience seems to have run an unnatural course contrary to today's weather pattern, from an excited "wow" to a stagnating "ho-hum."

Yet, so, so many did bring that enthusiasm and motivation with them to school--at first! But, then something happened. And, I sure do have a lot of questions about that. They seem to increasingly lose a readiness to learn, an excitement to learn, a desire to learn, an interest to learn, a motivation to learn, a need to learn, a reason to learn, all of which they had before they entered the school systems. Why does the phenomenal learning curve of most small pre-school children practically quickly begin to level off as they go up the grades in school and is practically flat by the time they enter college?

They became become reluctant learners, reluctant about going to school as they grow older. Why? Why is school far more often than not a "I'd rather be somewhere else" place? I mean just think about it. Do you remember yourself as a student? Do you remember how much you just couldn't wait to be allowed to sit in a regimented classroom for six hours a day? Do you remember how you just loved doing homework? Do you remember how you looked forward to those tests and arrival of report cards? I don't. Do you remember where you wanted to be or imagined where you had preferred to be? I do, and it was any place but my place in the school room. Do you remember what it was you really wanted to learn. I do, and it was anything but Latin or algebra or English or history. Why?

Before children enter the classroom, they're always asking questions, in touch with the world about us, touching it, feeling it, smelling it, holding on to it, crawling over it, climbing it, digging into it, tearing it apart, putting it together, soaking it in. No place was too dangerous; no place was off-limits. They're asking, "why is the sky blue;" they're picking up worms; they holding frogs up to their faces. They're curious as heck. Without a school room, without tests, without grades they learn the language of their parents and possibly other languages as well; they learn the majority of their vocabulary that they would use daily; they learn how to throw, catch, walk, run, skip, jump, swim, ride a bicycle, use the bathroom, draw, print, count, (reading if our parents gave us a bit of help), and take in a hundred of other things through their pores that they would do for the rest of their lives. If you wanted to keep these endlessly curious kids out of things you had to put things out of reach and put up a razor-wire fence.

Now, we have to put up a razor-wire fence to keep them in school and their hands are in their pockets. Why? What unpalatable recipe turns their feasting on learning into something of a hunger strike. What put that bad taste for food for thought in their spirit? Did the children somehow get exposed to a pollutant and caused them to undergo some unnatural, grotesque genetic mutation of attitude whereby the pleasure of learning was replaced by the pain of it? Did they errantly look at some kind of Medusa, have the rush of their vibrant life forces sucked out of them, and become cold, silent, immobile stone so that they've lost the capacity to play at learning and learn by playing? What is it that drains their power and dims their lights so that they go silent and immobile, and their zest slows down to rest so that learning hard becomes hard to learn?

Why have they generally been transformed from excited learners into bored test takers, grade getters? Why has the sparkle of inquisitiveness in their eyes turned into the blank stares of passive note-takers? Why is the prevailing question in their spirit changed from "why" to "what do you want?" What sucked out the life juices of excitement leaving an inert residue of boredom? What stiffened their once sponteneity and flexibility? What was it that redirected their wonder of the world about them to wondering about a grade? What was it that remodeled their risk-taking into playing it safe? What happened to them? Why do they hate history, find math boring, see a foreign language as a struggle, treat English as if it were a foreign language? Why are they, as someone calls it, "passion deprived?" And, my last "why." Why are the students almost always solely blamed for this? Lots of questions. No firm answers.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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