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Does school have to be boring?

April 7, 2019
Saline High School
Hornet Hub at Saline High School

The New York Times published an opinion piece on Sunday, March 30, 2019, entitled, “High School Doesn’t Have to be Boring.”  The authors spent six years traveling about the US, visiting schools, and talking with students. Remarkably, nearly 75% of elementary-aged school children report feeling challenged by the schoolwork. This percentage drops to less than 35% by grade eleven. Older students do not feel academically challenged. To “cover the curriculum,” teachers skim, noting dates/times/events, yet rarely engage or challenge students to dig deeper into difficult content.

Surprising to the researchers was the discovery that the deeper dives into the curriculum were not happening in core academic classes. This discovery-type learning was occurring in extra-curricular areas, elective courses, and clubs. Personally, I was struck by the quote,

“As we spent more time in schools, however, we noticed that powerful learning was happening most often at the periphery — in electives, clubs, and extracurriculars.”

In these spaces – labs, theaters, studios, businesses, and outdoor learning environments – teachers and students are actively engaged and working in concert to discover, innovate, create, and learn. The authors report that these high school students were already engaged and motivated; no additional innovation was necessary. Activities such as these were seen in all high schools, not just those that were typically “high performing.”

In Saline, we are often criticized for the perceived over-emphasis on extracurricular activities.  The reality is – we do put a lot of emphasis on these experiences for our students. As the researchers learned in the New York Times article, the importance of a variety of elective courses, clubs, sports, and music/drama/theater activities is as important as a rigorous academic curriculum.  Saline High School boasts 81 different clubs and thirty-three varsity sports. These clubs and sports provide a plethora of critical and engaging learning opportunities. For some students, these clubs, athletics, and elective courses pique the students’ interests and keep them in school. The benefits that students receive cannot be measured by a test score or a grade. These co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences help shape students into well-rounded adults who become contributing members in society. For some students, a club or sport is the reason they stay in school. It is crucial for us to remember the value if these experiences beyond the surface of the activity itself.

Saline High School Wind Ensemble

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 10, 2019 3:43 pm

    School should be a grind, but also allow for creativity. As a grade school student, one who moved with family, I had many teachers, but also in several cities, so I got an experience beyond one town or so. But that can also happen in one community, provided independent thinking and creativity are encouraged in the teachers. Each teacher should know the curriculum and standards, use the materials, but also find creative lessons and projects that move beyond mere bookwork and answers. Like when a teacher friend created a 3-D valley which the students worked on during a semester.
    But there’s another aspect to the school experience that also needs to be addressed? That’s the students themselves. I remember a man explaining, when he was a kid, telling his father he was bored. I think he was scolded, then explained that if he’s bored, he’s the one responsible. He never complained again, but got involved, then having multiple careers in adulthood.
    All too many have learned to see instant gratification. All too many have found “entertaining” ways of learning, computers or otherwise. In a sense, many have lost their imagination. Oh, they imagine, but they can’t think and entertain themselves in a positive way. Like when we were kids and television only had 4 channels. With friends, in our quest to “entertain” ourselves, we created games, played backyard sports, dove into dumpsters for bicycle parts and items for club houses, and more.
    In schools, there are two elements within the classroom setting: the teacher and the students. The teacher must know the materials, then find ways to deliver the content in various ways. However, no teacher will find every method to keep all the students entertained all of the time. The students have the responsibility to learn the material, and if they take it upon themselves the responsibility of learning (and this goes also, in part, to their parents), the will find creative ways and goals to garner the better grades.

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