The Case of Missing Joy in Learning
As I was scrolling through one of my social media feeds, I came across a video post by my schoolmate, Anna (name changed), about her kindergartner. The child was presenting a project of different seasons through a marvelously-built diorama. Through her well-rehearsed speech the kid, most likely 5 years old, went on and on for about 5–6 minutes. The kid, no doubt, was very expressive and could modulate her tone very well. The project was not something that a five-year-old would be able to make. And, the story ended with a message — work first then play. I had an upsurge of thoughts and questions right after.
- I do not know if the kid and the parent made the project together. Creating own projects is an excellent way of learning. I always urge parents to not rob children of their learning experience, and teachers to celebrate whatever kind of projects students indulge in. I remember being a volunteer in a class where the teacher had asked students to draw anything they wanted to. A child drew a purple-colored flying dog. And, that piece of imagination was truly celebrated.
- Isn’t play more important than work for a five-year-old? What message is this “message” drilling down for the innocent soul? Imaginative play is a powerful learning tool for toddlers (and adults). Teachers must allow students to make their own stories. Stories with irrelevant and irreversible messages can be harmful, such as the one above. It is through such instances when we, unknowingly, end up passing messages to children that they are not ready for. With such drilled-down messages comes stress and anxiety. As a teacher, I asked learners to share instances of their evening in the park, or what did they eat, or what are they grateful for. Slowly they developed stories of a conversation with their favorite toy and the message was — keep the room clean by putting pencil shavings in the trash can. Their messages are simple, age-appropriate, and self-owned.
- Anna was the topper of our batch. I wonder if she retains anything we learned during our undergrad. ’Cause, I do not remember anything. I didn’t enjoy learning. I thought it was about marks. I thought I can memorize and go ahead. I did get ahead, too. As an educator, I question this culture of memorization almost every other day. What sort of joyless learning experiences still exists for these learners? Schools have become no less than a factory. In one of my favorite articles, the author writes — “If the experience of “doing school” destroys children’s spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?”
The entire incident took me 20 years back in time when I was rote memorizing whatever my teachers or parents have asked me to. It took me back to a time when the teacher said — “Do not spend time understanding. Cram.”. It took me back to a teacher hitting me for not doing well on a “surprise test”. I realize, I would have never done well on that surprise test or any other such tests because I knew was to rote memorize a day before the exam. I didn’t understand what the teacher was teaching, ever. I was one of the students who would never meet the eyes of my teacher as I was scared to be “cold called” to answer a question I didn’t have any responses for. I am a victim of joyless education and I hope the upcoming generations do not have to face the same challenge.
Dear Anna, I might not have the courage to reach out to a proud mother. I just urge you to celebrate the child and not the outcome. Your child is a wonder child. She has her own gifts. Enjoy with her. Teach her “how to think” and not “what to think”. Acknowledge her failures, and let her know — play has all the power in the world.