By Rex Babiera, current independent education
consultant and freelance writer, and former Director of Learning and Communications at The Ball
Foundation’s Education Initiatives
After attending a panel of students on the verge of dropping out of school, Francisco Escobedo, Superintendent of Chula Vista (California) Elementary School District, told a group of educators (including me), “Their number one reason they may drop out is because schooling is boring to them.” No doubt, boredom stifles learning. When I started my teaching career in my twenties, I was an enthusiastic, but somewhat naïve high school science teacher. The last thing I wanted to do was to bore my students with a lesson. So I did a lot of fun demonstrations, included unconventional lab activities, and asked my students to work together often so that they might motivate one another. Looking back on this twenty years later, however, I think I may have mistaken entertainment for engagement.
When applied to learning, engagement, not entertainment, is the opposite of boredom. Entertainment and fun are outcomes of engagement, not the other way around. Think about something, anything—a subject, a set of skills, a vocation, or a hobby—that you know deeply. How did you come to know it so well? Probably you took something you really enjoyed, chose to find out as much about it as possible, met people who shared what they knew, and shared what you found with others who were just as interested in it as you were. And learning was a pleasure in itself. In his TED talk, “The Child-driven Education,” Professor Sugata Mitra related this quote from author Arthur C. Clarke: “Where there is interest, education happens.”