Our Nation's Children at Risk

The fact that the schooling experience of many students contributes to a diminished interest in learning is a matter that should be of great and immediate concern to all of us who care about our children and the future of our country.  The failure of our schools is typically measured in terms of the things our students don’t know and the dismal performance of our students on standardized tests, especially as compared to students in other industrialized nations. 

While it is indeed lamentable that a substantial percentage of our students emerge from thirteen years of education with little knowledge and few skills to show for their efforts, the most basic failure of our schools does not lie in the things our children do not learn, but rather in one thing that far too many students do appear to learn.  They come to associate “learning” with school and to believe that learning is a boring, tedious process that has little, if any, intrinsic value.  That is a very damaging misconception.  There is a great deal of value in being well-educated, and the benefits go well beyond the size of the paycheck one can eventually earn as a result of a diploma or degree.  The educational experiences of students should be structured to work in harmony with our natural curiosity. If we allow students the freedom to learn what they want to learn, or recognize a legitimate reason to learn, we could eliminate or minimize the elements of compulsion and control that tend to diminish students’ motivation to learn. 

Some people will argue that students will not learn as much if they are given the freedom to direct their own learning.  With some students this might be true.  However, as long as an individual maintains an inquisitive nature, growth and development continue, gaps in knowledge can be closed, and missteps or mistakes can be overcome.  (In many cases, we may even learn from our mistakes.)  When the motivation to learn is diminished or destroyed, realizing the goal of a happy and productive life can be considerably more difficult.  Our schools should be actively nurturing our love of learning. At the very least our schools should not be run in a manner that contributes in any way to a diminished desire to learn.