Death by Worksheets

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a bouncing boy of 5 years old running through the forest. He fell in the mud, collected stones, chased lightning bugs, climbed trees, balanced on logs, ran around barefoot, caught frogs, and made mighty forts out of twigs and branches. He made up games with his friends, loved looking at the pictures in books, and was endlessly curious. To the boy, living and learning and exploration and creative problem-solving and play all meant the same thing.

One seemingly normal day in September however, all of that changed. The boy went to school for the first time in his life, and the rules there were quite different. He sat at a small desk in the middle of a grid of small desks. He was not allowed to get up and move around for long periods of time. He was not allowed to talk without permission. He was not allowed to explore. He had to keep his shoes on. He only had 30 minutes to play outside. He was definitely not allowed to climb trees or play in the mud. In fact, it was very difficult for the boy to stay out of trouble. He had to write numbers and alphabet letters over and over again in class, and then had to write more once he got home.

It was the era of worksheets.

The worksheets were constant. Every day and every night there was homework to be completed. Letters, numbers, times tables, word problems, essays, memorization, textbooks, blah blah blah… over time, the boy’s avid curiosity was slowly replaced with surrender and resentment. Oh, he did the work alright, but just the bare minimum. Learning was now defined by worksheets and lectures — both absolute barriers to the boy’s freedom and interests. School was excruciating, and seemed to have no interest in the boy whatsoever.

The shackles of standardized tests on top of misguided teaching pedagogies suffocated the fun out of learning. The bounce was beaten right out of the boy, who over time became just another cog in the grinding gears of School. He and his friends were pressured to be quiet, still, obedient and “good” — all characteristics their adults considered necessary for future success. Although it took time to break him in, the boy became an entirely adequate student.

One day the boy graduated from high school, and his parents were very proud. Then he graduated from college, and his parents were very proud. Then he got a job, got married, bought a house, had children of his own, and his parents were very proud.

The boy was no longer a boy; he was now a man. The man struggled endlessly to untangle what he actually wanted for himself versus what everyone else expected of him. It was a constant and quiet dis-ease. It was a subtle tightness in his chest that he ignored and pushed away whenever possible. He had responsibilities now, after all — he had a family to take care of, and could not afford to mess about with childish notions of freedom or happiness.

The man was a good worker and was eventually promoted. He earned financial success, and bought a new car with leather seats.

In his performance evaluation the man’s supervisor noted how punctual and thorough he was with his paperwork.

Maureen (Mo) Weinhardt

Written by

Lifelong learner, Educator, author, speaker, adventurer, Education Manager at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco