Friday, September 21, 2012

Education as Entertainment

I pointed out in the last two entries how expectations can turn luxuries into necessities, what we once only wished for, we now must have or feel we have a right to.  I cited many examples:  home air conditioning or color television, the demand by Australian welfare recipients that they be allowed to spend unconditionally what is really other people’s money, even my own changing standards about what I consider a successful day.  Without perspective today’s pleasant surprises become tomorrow’s expectations, and gratitude is replaced with feelings of entitlement.

Accordingly, as my local newspaper printed a number of back to school stories, I was forced to consider how we may, with the best of intentions, be developing in our children highly unrealistic expectations, expectations that later in life may lead to disappointments or failure.

First, there were two articles featuring experienced middle school teachers and their plans for the new school year. (Unfortunately, the website is subscriber-only so I cannot provide a link.)  Both teachers emphasized the need to build relationships with the students and excitement around the subject.  One did this through the use of pop culture in classroom d├ęcor and knuckle bumps with students to elicit a sense of high energy.  The other used a “pleasant and encouraging” voice and emphasized the need to build trust.  This approach seems fine as it stands.  Get the kids fired up to learn.

On the same day, another local article described a county-wide grant program providing $12,000 per year “to foster creativity in the classroom and help them get excited about learning, generate enthusiasm…”

Finally this national article told of the scheme to award prizes to try to improve school attendance.

It important to get kids excited about learning, but I wonder, in light of our recent discussions on the nature of expectations, what will happen when these students move from school to the world of employment.  Will they expect bosses to spend their time entertaining, high-fiving, generating enthusiasm, energy and excitement to keep their workers engaged?  Will they be disappointed to find that the prize for attendance is your paycheck and the ability to keep your job?  Will there be a new round of management seminars about how to connect with this next generation that has developed different expectations and never been weaned from the external stimulus?  What will the consequences be for customers receiving service from those workers who didn’t get their daily dose of enthusiasm or who don’t find the transaction particularly entertaining?  What is the parents’ and teachers' role in ensuring that children can differentiate themselves by displaying some level of self-discipline to carry on when things get boring, when extra effort is required or when gratification must be delayed?   Is there a point in a child's education when the cheerleading stops and some internal motivation is expected, or will this become the new model for both school and work? 

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