Saving our Kids from the "School Cliff"

Regardless of whether or not the methodology of this study is precise (it’s difficult, perhaps, to measure “engagement”)—the findings are nevertheless interesting to consider. This Gallup research poll suggests that students become more disengaged in school the older they get. It might be easy to explain this drop in interest as a problem with the teenage brain. Teenagers have other things to be engaged with besides school–their hormones, relationships, etc…

It can’t be reduced to just this. There’s so much more to this problem than a changing brain. The lack of engament is a symptom, not a diagnosis, and one that suggests something is failing.

Perhaps, as this research indicates, we fail to embrace the entrepreneurial students in our schools. Maybe we fail to embrace both the entrepreneurial student and the entrepreneurial spirit in general.

Here’s something interesting: a student in the 1st grade is much more likely to “learn-by-doing” than a student in the 12th grade. According to the Gallup poll, “Forty-five percent of our students in grades 5 through 12 say they plan to start their own business someday. That’s a ton of entrepreneurial energy in our schools. Yet a mere 5% have spent more than one hour in the last week working, interning, or being exposed to a real business.”

Yes, learning should become more intellectual and cerebral the older and smarter a student gets. However, using one’s hands, learning by experimenting, engaging in projects—this is what keeps kids focused in the younger grades. And this is exactly what students lack in the older grades.

When students feel that what they’re learning has real-life applications, they’re more likely to be engaged. Project-based learning is really just purpose-based learning. It’s learning with the intention of learning—of acquiring new skills in the act of using those skills—where the examination actually takes place in the process. After all, we don’t live life with the intention of taking an exam at the end. We all know that life IS the exam.

That’s a cliché that could be applied to school. School IS the exam. The “act of learning”—of doing—IS the exam. Once  we make learning more and more active, our students will follow suit.

Jane at Nomad


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