Sir Ken Robinson, author of The Element, has famously said:
“Whether or not you discover your talents and passions is partly a matter of opportunity. If you’ve never been sailing, or picked up an instrument, or tried to teach or to write fiction, how would you know if you had a talent for these things?”
And I would take this thought a step further. Schools pride themselves on giving students all types of opportunities.
Many educators (myself included) believe that education is the bridge that allows someone to do what they love for a living, and love what they do for a living.
Yet, the problem is that we often fail to encourage students to try new things, and instead demand that they try new things. It may sound like a small difference, but let me tell you, it has huge ramifications. Encouraging expands options and affirms student agency. Demanding limits options and pushes compliance.
Dale Carnegie makes the best argument for this difference when talking about strawberries and cream:
“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms.
So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted.
I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?’ Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?”
We can’t predict what will catch our students’ attention. We can’t choose what will engage them. And we can’t force them to have high attention and commitment in their learning if there is no chance for ownership.
Choice gives students the opportunity to cast their own line and choose what bait they want on it. Learning follows, not because it is forced upon them, but because it is naturally connected to curiosity and inquiry.
To “reinvent school”, we don’t need to scrap the entire system. We don’t need to start from scratch. We don’t need to throw away what has worked. Instead, we need to change our focus from rigor to vigor.
Choice, whether completely free or with limitations, is what will drive our students to dive deeper into learning. And it may bring us back to why we loved learning in the first place: It allows us to do the things we can only dream of doing.
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