On the way to school

An interesting conversation with my oldest unfolded the other morning in the car as I was driving him to Middle School.

“What would make school more interesting?” I asked.

“Not having school.” was his terse reply.

I took this with a  grain of salt since he was in the middle of making up for 10 days of missed school, having been out with a bacterial infection that took a too long to diagnose and contain.

“Imagine not having school as you know it.” I continued. “What would you want to learn about?”

This came on the heels of my watching the video featured in a recent Huffington Post article about the school in Massachusetts with a truly intriguing twist on learning.

“Nothing.” He said.

“Nothing? Well you just learned how to string a lacrosse head last week. That’s learning something.”

And then came the real kicker from him.

“Yeah, but in school they’re teaching us about stuff that someone else has already figured out. I mean why do we need to learn how to figure it out when someone else has already done it.”

I paused on this one, ready to pounce on him for being a product of the immediate-gratification-iPhone-toting privileged teens of today. And I paused longer.

I really didn’t know what to say, but he had unknowingly really piqued my interest. Again returning to a comment a student had in the video, “Everyone wants to learn something.”

“Well what if you could just study lacrosse for a year: the history, how to make sticks, stringing, playing, everything that has to do with lacrosse. You’d have to learn how to use math, and reading, and science…”

I paused when I heard him give a muffled “Hmmph.”

I think I had him for a moment, and then I brought the “school” stuff back into it. That’s when he hmmphed.

And this is from a kid who does well in school. We don’t have to worry about his grades or standardized test scores: the true coin of the realm as Kathleen Scott, the principal in the boys’ school in California, used to appropriately refer to test scores.

Is his academic apathy part of a larger social issue, or is it just the pain of getting through middle school? Did the access to information – which is now sadly referred to as just “content” – the fear of which started with Alvin Toffler and “Future Shock” in the 70s, now accelerating at practically incalculable rates as teenagers seek the next app to pique their interest? Facebook to younger teens is passé. Instagram and Snapchat are it. But those will soon wane, replaced by the next bright and shiny tool to communicate with.

More crucial to the issue of keeping students engaged with academics is that answers to practically any question a student will ever have is a Google search away. This doesn’t’ mean they’re receiving the most accurate or correct answer, but they are receiving an answer, and that’s all they care about: immediate results.

After all, if someone else has already taken the time to figure out something, why should they bother? This is a generation of doing. They’re more than happy to let other people do the thinking, to provide them with the gadgets for their active lifestyles.

But what happens when it’s their turn to invent the gadgets, and to do the thinking? Because, eventually, their turn will come.