Attention Span: Our National Education Crisis, Part Three

Read Part One Here

Read Part Two Here

Fallacy Number 1: Learning should be fun.

Indeed, the lesson seems to be that everything should be fun.

The worst criticism of our time is that something is boring, as if that made it less true or less important or less right.

There is nothing wrong with fun, but there is everything wrong with a society whose primary purpose is to seek fun.

In American society, particularly among those under 40, the love of fun is the root of all evil. This is the legacy of the sixties—seeking fun has become a national pastime.

With respect to the education of an adult, fun is simply not a legitimate measurement of value.

Things should be judged by whether or not they are good, true, wholesome, important or right. Commercialistic society judges things by whether they are profitable, and even socialism judges whether something is fair or equitable.

But what kind of a society makes “fun” the major criteria for its actions and choices?
Consider how this lesson impacts the education of youth and adults. Learning occurs when students study. Period.

No fancy buildings or curricula or assemblies or higher teacher salaries change this core principle.

Learning occurs when students study, and any educational system is only as good as the student’s attention span and the quality of the materials.

Now, study can be fun, but it is mostly just plain old-fashioned hard work, and nearly all of the fun of studying comes after the work is completed.

In essence, there are really two kinds of fun—the kind we earn (which used to be called “leisure”), and the kind that we just sit through as it happens to us (entertainment). There are very few things in life as fun as real learning, but we must earn it. And this kind of fun always comes after the hard work is completed.

No nation that believes that learning should be fun, in the unearned sense, is likely to do much hard studying, so not much learning will occur.

And without that learning the nation will not remain free. Nor will people stay moral, since righteousness is hard work and just doesn’t seem nearly as fun as some of the alternatives.

No nation focused on unearned fun will pay the price to fight a revolutionary war for their freedoms, or cross the plains and build a new nation, or sacrifice to free the slaves or rescue Europe from Hitler, or put a man on the moon. We got where we are because we did a lot of things that weren’t fun.

Americans today believe that it is their right to have fun. Every day they expect to do something fun, and they expect nearly everything they do to be fun. Most adults eventually figure out that fun isn’t the goal, but many of today’s students firmly believe that learning must be fun; if not, they put down the books and go find something else to do.

Fallacy Number 2: Good teaching is entertaining.
Since fun is the goal, teachers must be entertaining or they aren’t good teachers. “He is boring,” is the worst criticism of a teacher these days.

The problem with this false lesson, besides the fact that some of the best teachers aren’t a bit entertaining, is that it assumes that teachers are responsible for education in the first place.

Now remember, I’m speaking of the role of adult and youth students to own their responsibility for their education.

This is not intended as license for parents and educators to abdicate the responsibility to be all that they can be as mentors.

But think of it: if we, as students, are waiting around for our teachers to get it right or else we’re not gonna study, who really loses?

Whose job is education anyway?

All of us have watched a movie with a bad ending, and since our goal in watching was to be entertained, we are upset that the movie ended that way. We blame it on whoever made the movie; it was their fault.

Our culture approaches teachers the same way—if we weren’t entertained or didn’t learn, it is their fault. “What kind of a teacher is he, anyway; I didn’t learn anything in his class.”

But if I don’t learn something in a class, it is my own fault, no matter how good or bad the teacher is.

Good teaching is a wonderful and extremely important commodity, but that is another essay, and it is not responsible for a student’s success. Students are. To tell them otherwise is to leave them victims who are forever at the mercy of the system.

And history is full of examples of students who owned their role and achieved greatness because they recognized that it was their job to supply the motivation and the effort to gain a great education.

Our society likes to blame its educational shallowness on its teachers because it is just plain easier to blame than to study.

And it is easier for parents and politicians to join the blaming game than to set an example of studying that will inspire their youth to action.

The impact on education is clear: We blame teachers and our schools for the problems, while we do everything except the hard work of gaining an education for ourselves, thus inspiring and facilitating our children to do the same.

The impact on freedom is equally direct: Students who have been raised to blame educational failure on someone else usually become adults who expect outside experts to take care of our freedom for us.

Even those who become activists tend to spend a lot of time exposing the actions of others, “waking people up” to what “they” are doing.

And whether “they” refers to conspirators, liberals, or the religious right, the activists seldom do anything about the situation except talk—in more shallow 30-second sound bite opinions.

A corollary of this false lesson is that students need a commercial every 8.2 minutes. We are conditioned to short attention spans, and therefore to shallow educations and nominal freedoms.

The reality is that unless you spend at least two hours on something, chances are you didn’t learn much. Without attention span, little is learned.

Fallacy Number 3: Books, texts and materials should be simple and understandable.

Now, mind you–I’m not suggesting that authors should be purposely obscure or irrelevant. I’m just returning to the idea that we, as students, must step up to whatever obstacles may be in our way.

It’s our job to do whatever it takes to get an education, no matter the quality or interest level of our materials.

But even beyond that obvious point, the problem with this error is that the complex stuff is actually the best, the most interesting, ironically the most fun, and certainly the most likely to produce individual thinkers and a free nation.

The classics, the scriptures, Shakespeare, Newton—works really worth tackling are the best and most enjoyable.

Consider the impact of simple materials on education.

For example, what kind of nation would the founders have framed had they been taught a diet of easy textbooks, easier workbooks, more quickly understood concepts and curricula?

A free people is a thinking people, and thinking is hard work—it is, in fact, the hardest work, which is why so little of it takes place in a society which avoids pressure and takes the easy path.

The only reason to choose easier curriculum is that it is easier, but the result is weaker graduates, flimsier characters, vaguer convictions and impotent wills.

Thucydides said it bluntly: “The ones who come out on top are the ones who have been trained in the hardest school.”

This is true of individuals and of nations.

I am not saying that everything that is hard has value, but I am saying that most things of value are hard. If your studies weren’t hard, really hard, chances are you didn’t learn much.

 

To be continued…..

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