I recently saw a post on an education website about motivating students. I didn’t know motivation in learning was a problem. In fact we really don’t have much to say on the matter. There’s no more powerful force in our life than the desire to learn. If that were not true we would never pull ourselves off the ground to balance on our two feet, or be compelled to touch the stove. The desire to learn sends us to the far reaches of the universe and down dark alleys. It consumes athletes, musicians and gamers, not just those comfortable in libraries reading books. In the first season of The Wire (a great TV series for understanding the complexity of urban life btw) a grade schooler was being tutored by his slightly older drug-dealing/cartaker brother. The exasperated older brother finally tried something different to help his younger brother figure out the math problem, so he gave him a street example that mirrored the problem. Rather than apples and baskets he used money, drugs, and dealing.” The kid wasted no time coming to the answer, like it were spit out of a spreadsheet. “How come you get it now and you can’t do it here,” the brother said pointing at the text book. “Cause, if I don’t get it right on the street, I get got.” That’s maybe the dark side, but that’s motivation.
Some years ago when I was first learning about video production someone told me that quality wasn’t important if someone wanted the content. In other words, if the information is relevant and timely the packaging doesn’t matter. Education theorists have talked about the difference between a banking and problem solving approach to learning for years. The banking approach is seldom relevant or timely, it assumes that if you teach a person something they will figure out a relevant use for it some day, which is sort of a “build it and they will come” approach to learning. The problem solving approach, of course, is founded on relevance. Does this mean the banking approach is wrong? No. You wouldn’t wait until a child is hurt before teaching them about safety. Yet, the safety lessons longest learned happen when they are connected to reality, when they touch the stove. When I consulted to manufacturing organizations they worked under similar divergent models that they called “push” and “pull.” It’s a system that makes the flow of parts and activities timely and relevant rather than being forced through the organization in a top-down fashion. As my old colleague Tim would say: “it’s easier to pull a rope than push it.” Every teacher understands this. However, many schools still labor under the weight of outdated manufacturing models that “push” curriculum, keeping them in the banking system of education. Irrelevant.
It’s no wonder that kids get labeled LD in this system, which is tragic because we all are born with the desire is to learn, to pursue things that are relevant to our worlds. Most of us don’t do well on tests or memorizing unrelated factoids, but give us a problem to solve and the time to do it . . . In society’s frenzy to make the old system work by satisfying our prejudices about learning with testing, we leave those who just want to learn naturally in search of alternatives. Motivation cannot be imposed, it just needs direction. So, what are your “push” stories. What’s your passion? Was it supported in school?