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Greg Farr

Scott,

As you know, I am principal of an Alternative High School. Our primary mission is drop-out prevention and recovery. Every student who comes here must have an interview with me. The interviews that I have had with literally 100s of students over the years have provided me a revealing window to their perceptions of school.

The average age of students who enroll here is 17.5. They bring an average of 15 credits. But I have also interviewed students 18 years old, with 23 credits who dropped out two months before graduating!

I always want to know why? What happened?

Perhaps I can write a more detailed response someday, but the title of your post asked a question that I wanted to answer immediately: yes, schools quash student enthusiasm for learning.

It's schools like mine that see the true effects and are left to try and at least "recover" enough student energy to get them across that finish line called a diploma. Unfortunately, I see too many instances of educators who seem to really believe a different vision statement: "Forget life-long learners, we just need them to live long enough to get that diploma."

You have raised an issue we MUST address in greater detail. For now, I would personally answer your closing question with this:

We must set the rhetoric aside. We must set the preoccupation with testing aside. We must set the entire mindset of "systems approach" aside. Universally, this is what I hear from the kids who have stopped-out: We need to get back in touch with the "heart and soul" of teaching and refocus on one thing: RELATIONSHIPS with students. If we can somehow rekindle that one spark, it will lead to a renewed "fire in the belly" of students and inspire them to truly want to learn...and keep learning.

Over and over and over again we see that students who become life-long learners share one common factor: a teacher who established a relationship that challenged and inspired them.

Jeff Johnson

Here are a few comments from my perspective as a K-12 Director of Technology in a sububan school district where 80-90% of the students that graduate go on to higher ed:

1. Marc Prensky, who coined the terms "digital native" and "digital immigrant," says, "As educators, we must take our cues from our students' 21st century innovations and behaviors, abandoning, in many cases, our own predigital instincts and comfort zones. Teachers must practice putting engagement before content when teaching. They need to laugh at their own digital immigrant accents, pay attention to how their students learn, and value and honor what their students know. They must remember that they are teaching in the 21st century. This means encouraging decision making among students, involving students in designing instruction, and getting input from students about how they would teach. Teachers needn't master all the new technologies. They should continue doing what they do best: leading discussion in the classroom. But they must find ways to incorporate into those discussions the information and knowledge that their students acquire outside class in their digital lives."
http://www.ascd.org/authors/ed_lead/el200512_prensky.html

2. For students that are fortunate enough to have teachers that use technology as part of the learning process (not just to do slide shows), there is much enthusiasm. This not only includes more traditional technologies like computers and software but relatively new technologies like interactive whiteboards and Web 2.0 services.

3. While Apple is in business to sell hardware, software and services, they did post some interesting NCES findings on the "disconnect" between students and schooling.
http://www.apple.com/education/digitalkids/disconnect/

4. From the recently released "Technology Counts 2007" report, "Anecdotal evidence and research suggest that teachers’ integration of digital tools into instruction is sporadic. Many young people’s reliance on digital technology in their outside lives stands in sharp contrast to their limited use of it in school."

"For many educators, 21st-century digital literacy must hinge not on the superficial fluency with technology that many students exhibit in their off hours, but on proficiency in such skills as effectively sifting through a glut of electronic information and producing creative work that will be valued highly in the global marketplace.

Whether schools are on the right track in equipping students with those more sophisticated skills remains an open question."

In short, students seem to be less excited about school in general, particularly as they get older. Some of this may have to do with the not-insignificant differences between the digital native students and their mostly digital immigrant teachers. Some of it may have to do with the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots. The fact that we still have an archaic daily schedule and yearly calendar may factor in.

These questions do not have easy answers but it seems obvious that we need to look at all aspects of schooling as we seek solutions.

Henry Cate

"What is it about our educational system that (dare I say it?) beats the academic enthusiasm out of our children?"

My short answer is it is the very nature of public schools.

The way public schools are structured is after a factory model. The factory model means that teachers teach to the average student. Sometimes the students who already got it will be bored out of their skulls. And the students who didn’t get it will soon be lost. This means that the classroom setting is only fueling the fire some of the time. Some of the time a student’s love for learning is being starved or worse being doused.


My longer answer is here:

http://whyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2007/04/my-reponse-to-do-schools-quash-students.html

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