Monday, January 28, 2013

Banishing happiness from the classroom

After a round of assignment grading, I've had an epiphany about why the kids sound so flat, dispirited and naive in their written work. The kind of answers they were giving me was equivalent to typical teenspeak: "How was your day?" "Fine." "How was school?" "Good." In an exercise that required the kids to explore problems, issues and concerns, the kids were killing off the discussion like they didn't really want to talk about it. It was like they were faking a veneer of happiness as if appearing unhappy was abnormal behaviour.

As education workers, we generally like happy children. They are easier to control in class as they tend to be more compliant with what we tell them. Anytime we notice a child is unhappy, alarm bells ring. We take it on ourselves to "get to the root of the problem" and punish, counsel or medicate their unhappiness away so that they can return to a state of compliance and be like everybody else again. Our assumption is that happy is normal, unhappy needs to be dealt with -- severely, in some cases.

I think we're forgetting something. The happy student has the least incentive to learn anything new. It's the unhappy student who stands to gain more from learning than the contented one. Happy students are resistant to learning because new ideas rock the boat they're already comfortable in. Unhappy students learn because of the opportunity learning offers to change their circumstances for the better.

These days, our efforts in school are geared towards making our students as happy as possible. At home, too, parents want their kids to be happy and will do everything they can to make it so. We simply give them too much: resources, equipment, information. The kids themselves have to be feeling that with so much going on around them to make them happy, they should be happy -- but they're not. And if they're not, something must be wrong with them. So they pretend... and then they turn in essays that we'd prefer to burn than grade.

New rule for my classes: My students have to be angry; upset; disappointed; frustrated; worried; scared; and bring all their negativity into the classroom. The happy student is complacent, useless and a non-contributor and has no place in my class.

I don't have to make them unhappy, I know they already are. My class wlll be noisy with kids sounding off their gripes, grouses and rants. I'm not going to pretend that I have a solution to their troubles. That's not my job. My subject being GP, I teach them to observe, organize, evaluate and recommend approaches to deal with their own problems so that they have something useful to learn.

However, last thing I want is to dictate what they should think. I don't want them to approach their questions by trying to recall how Mr X answered a similar question previously; what argument structure he applied; what his conclusions were... Their problems, their approaches, their solutions, not mine.

... and a little something more. An Ingredient X that I will be experimenting with in subsequent classes. I'll let you know how that turns out once I get some data to reflect upon. Stay tuned.

No comments: