Friday, September 25, 2009

Why do students hate school, but love learning?

A few weeks ago my wife and I had some friends over for dinner.  Just before they left we we got to talking about blogs and I mentioned, somewhat casually, that I have a blog that I post to about once a week or so.  At that point my wife turned and looked at me like I was a stranger she had never seen before and then said, rather emphatically, "No you don't."  You see I have never been particularly fond of or good at writing (as many of my posts reveal).  But, for the past year or so I have been a regular blogger.  What's more, it is one of the more enjoyable things that I do in my work.  This didn't make sense to my wife and has only recently started to make sense to me.  

In high school, and to some extent in college, I cringed any time a teacher mentioned an essay, research project, or even Haiku (I still wince at writing reports, memos, and evaluations).  I hated writing.  I was forced to do it, couldn't write about anything other than what the teacher wanted, and no one other than my teacher (who I didn't really care about anyway) was going to read it.  So, I've always been a little intrigued by the fact that writing for a blog is something that I do willingly.  Last night I got some answers that shed some light on this split personality I've developed.   

I listened to a talk by Clay Shirky ("Where do people find the time?"--for part 2 of the talk click here), a professor of new media at NYU, where he describes what he calls an "architecture of participation."  This architecture consists of three factors:  an ability for individuals to (1) consume, (2) produce, and (3) share all of which Shirky argues are critical for meaningful participation.  The more I listened I started to realize that my blog has allowed me to do all three of those things and I started to believe what Shirky was saying.  My blogging is different from the academic writing asked of me in school in very important and fundamental ways.  First, when I blog I get to write about what I am interested in and it isn't restricted to a particular discipline.  I am, at heart, an educator so many of my posts center there.  I've also written about politics, language, design, and health care. . .things I know little about, but am interested in.  Blogging also allows me to produce my own digital footprint.  I enjoy creating a post that links to books I've read, talks I've listened to, and other blogs.  It's also gratifying to google a term like "deep practice" and see one of my postings come up in the search.  I feel like I've created something that matters.  Lastly, because blogs are public I know that what I'm writing may actually be read by someone (I recognize that may not be true, but the theoretical idea sounds good to me).  That, incidentally, makes me care a lot more about what I write about and how I write it.

This all leaves me wondering how we can make school a little more like blogging.  What if schools were more thoughtful about creating an architecture of participation that would support the type of learning we hope happens in our classrooms?  How would assignments be structured differently?  How would the teachers role in the classroom change?  How would relationships and roles among peers look?  

The idealist in me wants to believe this would make a difference and that students would start learning in school in the same ways we see them learning once they leave our classrooms and campuses.  Am I being naive?