Is education still possible in a dead culture? Is learning capable of being what is now called, “fun”? What does it mean to care? As in, “I don’t care about what we are doing in school.” Or what about the best moment of the week, when I was told, “It’s the teachers job to make learning fun.”
So let’s deal with the term first. Fun seems to mean, in most of my student’s usage, enjoyable. So how is learning linked to joy? It would seem to indicate a possible dichotomy between means and end.
I think this is where things are breaking down for us in education, at least in part. I was taught when I was young to enjoy something either by finding joy in the doing of it or the end results. I was hard pressed to enjoy suicides in full pads on the football field, but I really enjoyed the win. Mowing the yard was a pain, but that moment of silence when the loud engine is cut off, the waft of newly mown grass is breathed in, and the look of all that uniform green grass is surveyed that true joy is there for the moment. But what if the pain of the suicide or the sweat and heat of the mower caused me to quit before the end? No joy. The end only comes at the completion of the means.
But I think that analogy is inaccurate to what I face on long weeks like this one. I think instead a habit has been instilled in many students that leads them to avoid all means but the one they consider necessary. They don’t run any extra laps or go ahead and trim the hedges as well. Instead, they seek whatever gets them the end (re: the grade) and thus have no joy in either the means or the real end that would bring joy, an education. They get the diploma without any reality in it.
So my students sit there wanting me to make learning fun. But they don’t want to learn, they want to get past “school” to the party they perceive to be waiting for them out beyond the school walls. Their habits of life, the means they enjoy that they hope lead them to joyful ends, are antithetical to a real education. They enjoy texting, but not reading a challenging text (in fact they don’t equate books and written passages with a text, they think a text is something on a mobile device). They love to talk, but they don’t want to do so with any clear definition of terms, careful exposition of their thoughts, etc. “Why you have to be smart all the time; you should be more dumb like us, Mr. El.” And I will leave the skills of writing and listening alone, because it has been a long week of grading papers and speaking to a non-listening group of students.
These habits will greatly limit the joy my students can have in life. They are headed for Thoreau’s “life of quiet desperation” but I am not sure how to give them an appetite for real joy. I love them. I want life’s best for them. I recognize that my frustration with them only disrupts their perception of the joy that I have in my own life in both the means and ends of a vibrant and joyful life of learning. God save me from myself and draw my students out of their caves and into the bright light of truth.