I watched a movie the other day – Lions for Lambs – a film by Robert Redford with three story lines that were connected, but in the beginning you couldn’t tell how. Essentially, the movie was about engagement. It was one of those movies that after it was over, you wanted to discuss it with someone – it left some many ideas swimming around in your head – the movie itself was engaging.
And I started thinking about what passes for education in so many of our classrooms today and the most common complaint I hear from teachers: apathetic students – students who are not engaged, who are physically present but mentally absent without leave. Students who complain about mindless “busy work” assignments that are unrelated to anything they know about [or so they think]. Students who are bored and restless. Teachers who are tired and frustrated. And who can blame either students or teachers? Teachers who feel they are at the mercy of the almighty End of Course tests, High School Assessment Program, and whatever state assessment is currently being used and the upcoming PARCC or Smarter Balance. Students served a steady diet of worksheets, “answer the questions as the end of the section,” or “look up the words and write a definition” – and the miracle is that anyone ever does any of that mind-scalding stuff. Sometimes I wonder – if the tables were turned, and teachers had to complete the homework they assigned, would they?
How is it that we have so many interesting things going on in the world – and all those interesting things are at our fingertips via the Internet – and yet so little of it makes its way into a classroom?