Reaction to CNN Post of Student Video

When I first viewed this video and the story that accompanies it, I had the following initial reactions. You’ll have to check out the video to understand the rest of this post, but it’s only about a minute long.

My first thoughts:

  1.  I should unsubscribe from CNN’s Schools of Thought Blog. I don’t keep it in my queue because I think they say brilliant things about education (sometimes they do, but it’s rare)… I keep it because it enables me to keep my finger on the proverbial pulse of public opinion about education. This, however, nearly made me unsubscribe.
  2. How unfortunate that this kid feels this way about his classmates.
  3. How in the world can I respond to this without invalidating what this kid feels?
  4. Does anyone else find this a little outraging/outrageous?

For the life of me, I couldn’t even start writing the reactionary post. I started, deleted, started again, revised, and finally gave up. For lack of a better plan, I turned to facebook, where I’m friends with other education scholars and a number of former students. I got the following couple of responses, and though I might have liked to hear more people’s two cents, their combined comments are worth quoting. Here’s what they said:

From a former colleague/fellow ed scholar:

‎”Lack of motivation” is nothing new–it’s been around as long as schools have. This kid seems like a disaffected outsider who’s using this forum to vent his frustrations with his peers. I don’t doubt that there’s some accuracy to what he’s saying, but it’s by no means the only–or even the greatest–problem with education. If a lot of students are truly unmotivated, then we need to examine why they lack motivation–a search that, I suspect, will lead us directly to parents and home environments
And from a former high school student, currently a senior:
Being a fellow student, I understand his view. But I don’t think kids don’t have a willingness to learn. Every year is seems more materials are added to the cirriculum that there isn’t time to gain thorough knowledge of a subject and with work, school, and social lives, many teens just go for the grade instead of learning so they can pass and move on, hindering them if the subject comes up again. However I don’t appreciate the attack on the arts. The arts apply what is taught in math, english, etc which should increase their “willingness to learn.”
These reactions essentially sum up my arguments. I was pleased to hear one of my former students argue that it’s not about whether students want to learn, but about how we’re going about delivering, deciding upon, and cramming in content. He’s right — current policies like the Common Core are pushing for even more content to be covered in each discipline over the course of a school year. Instead of making smart decisions about where depth is important, we simply continue adding breadth. My philosophy when I was teaching was always to value depth over breadth. That often meant that I would spend a lot of time on a few texts (by a few, though, I mean 7 major texts plus supplementals in my 9th grade classes, which is nothing to shake a stick at) instead of a little time on a ton of texts. This meant that we spent an entire quarter compiling revised, workshopped portfolios of writing. It meant that some things “went by the wayside” — for example, grammar, which I taught in the context of student writing (try explaining that to someone who wants to see the contents of your grammar unit).
And my colleague said it better than I could have — “If a lot of students are truly unmotivated, then we need to examine why they lack motivation.” He goes on to say that this might lead us straight to their home environments, and while I agree that’s a possibility, I think teachers and policymakers need to consider what’s going on in classrooms and how we can make content and delivery more relevant to the lives of today’s kids and tomorrow’s adults. Kids want to learn. They want to learn things that will help them succeed in life. Ask any kid — she’s unlikely to tell you “nah, I don’t care whether or not I succeed in life.” Ask any teacher, and I hope you’ll hear from her that she has kids who want to learn — kids who light up when they get excited about a project or an assignment or a unit. If that never happened, teaching would be a pretty awful job. Teachers are in it for those moments… they certainly aren’t in it for the money.
Thanks to my colleague and my student. I’m keeping them anonymous here, but they helped me write a reaction when I was pretty stumped.

2 thoughts on “Reaction to CNN Post of Student Video

  1. meridethgarcia

    St. Augustine complains about how boring lessons are in his “Confessions,” so, yeah, nothing new there. And I’ve heard many students take on the fault as their own, but I think considering brain development and its impact on maturity and decision-making, we have some responsibility as teachers to persuade students that what we have to offer has a pay-off for them. Some are easier to convince than others.

  2. Pingback: Thinking about Writing (Instruction) « Gone Digital

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