Imagine that your work life entailed few opportunities to use your creativity or to follow through on an interest or pursue an initiative.
Imagine that you had few if any opportunities to collaborate with your co-workers, to express any control over how your day was spent, or to have any genuine feeling of purpose or motivation for your work or that of your organization.
Now imagine that you moved through this type of work each day in seven 45-minute periods, where what happened in each period was disconnected from the others. As soon as you began to accomplish something or to think about an issue in depth, you were whisked away to the next task. Imagine, finally, that your experience mirrored that of each of your classmates. You were treated no differently than anyone else, as your individual interests, strengths, and/or challenges were essentially ignored.
It’s perhaps an overstatement to say that this is what children and teens experience in schools—but not by much. If in the lower grades, the typical school experience begins to offer opportunities for creativity and inquiry, much of what students experience by middle and high school reflects a focus on regimentation, standardized testing, and rote learning that is mostly disconnected from what many students find interesting and relevant.
And not surprisingly, students on average become less engaged over time. Their lack of engagement, as we can see in this recent article from Harvard’s Ed. Magazine, has dire consequences for their future as both students and people. Boredom, according to Zachary Jason, isn’t just something students subjectively report that they experience: it’s a direct result of how many schools function—and it is a key predictor of how children will succeed in school and in life.
That’s why we should care deeply about how bored (or, more positively, how engaged) children and teens are in school. At Green Acres, one of our primary goals is for our 8th graders to be as engaged and excited about learning as are our kindergartners. We want them to develop a love of learning, because we know that this ultimately will be the best tool in their kits for learning and living. It’s not simply a “frill” to have an engaging education; it’s essential for one’s intellectual and overall development.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about how “engaged, resilient, and joyful” our Middle Schoolers are, attributing the fact that our students feel deeply known, cared for, and inspired by their teachers and peers as why they love coming to school. I also hinted at the inherently meaningful, challenging, project-based work our children get to do every day—and the lines of inquiry each student is encouraged to pursue according to his or her intellectual curiosity.
Children at Green Acres reap the benefits of this philosophy-in-practice on a daily basis. Projects, for example, are designed to allow students to delve deeply into a niche of a broader topic that their peers are studying from a different approach. As such, our students work collaboratively alongside each other, teaching and inspiring each other in a complementary way that rounds out and deepens their learning. It enables students to appreciate nuance, admire complexity, and boldly take on the multifaceted ways in which we can (and should) understand any given subject. It empowers students to take an interdisciplinary approach to learning—a way that reflects how we solve problems in “the real world.” And when students are not just permitted, but encouraged, to investigate their most interesting questions, we find that they create their most innovative solutions.
When compared with today’s models of education that result in bored (instead of buoyant) minds, this approach to learning feels like a breath of fresh air. And yet it’s nothing new—it’s called progressive education, a philosophy we’ve been practicing here at Green Acres since we opened our doors in 1934. Progressive education is not just an antidote to boredom—it’s the key for igniting in children the most important intellectual quality of all: a love of learning.
In the coming days, “The Research Behind What We Do Every Day at Green Acres School” (an online resource for parents and educators) will become available on our website. In my next post, I’ll invite you to explore it while considering how our progressive educational approach and the love of learning it fosters sets Green Acres apart from other schools—and leads to the unmatched level of student engagement you’ll find here.