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Schools must get children to enjoy education

Harmon Killebrew, one of the most respected baseball players of the 1960s, tells the story of how his father used to play with him and his brother in their garden when they were young. His mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass”; “We’re not raising grass,” his father would reply. “We’re raising boys”.

by Tim Middelton

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The mother’s attitude (“Keep off the grass”) may well be an appropriate picture of what happens in schools today, where it would often appear that educationists are the modern spoilsports, stick-in-the-muds, killjoys who hamper children’s development by almost deliberately making education a miserable, mechanical, dull, boring, grinding experience, where getting through the curriculum and getting results are the only things that matter. We think that because education is a serious business it must not and cannot be enjoyed.

The way that we view sport highlights this. A recent newspaper report criticised a soccer player for embracing and smiling at an opponent after he had just lost.  The argument is that you cannot enjoy sport if you do not win. Such a view though is utterly superficial and narrow. We can enjoy a closely-fought defeat — we can enjoy the challenge, the experience, the lessons gained. It is not surprising therefore that many children give up sport after they leave school as they have been used and even abused for the sake of the school’s reputation, based on results, instead of enjoying the sport.

A school must be a place of enjoyment, where classes are full of joy, where homework, clubs, break-times, lunch-times, boarding, sport are all full of joy, joy in the sense of a deep, lasting, contentment; a relaxed, positive peace; a full, bursting delight.  We must help pupils find enjoyment in the challenge, newness, opportunity, security, activity in education. “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” [Greg Anderson] Enjoyment is what we should be creating, not the result — the result will follow naturally.

A school should be a place of enjoyment but not a place of amusement — again, we need Es not As.  A teacher is not there to tell jokes, do tricks, show videos, to amuse and entertain pupils — he is there to help pupils enjoy their subject and indeed life.  Education is more than amusement. Some accept a poor imitation of joy, called “happiness”.  Fun and happiness are froth that disappear rapidly and bring no great refreshment or benefit.  Entertainment is superficial — enjoyment is genuine. It is not jokes but joy that is to be shared.

A wonderfully vivacious preacher was known for his catchphrase “what a joy”.  Even the smallest of events could elicit a very genuine cry of “what a joy!” His life, in truth, was one of real joy, wonderful joy.  There are many people in our world though who are specialists in “yoj” — they turn “joy” backwards.  We might say they “delight in yoj” but it would be wrong to say they “delight” in it — they delight in nothing.  Similarly, the media are only interested in bad news while films promote bleak, dark, draining violence, horror and disaster.  People have forgotten how to enjoy themselves and that we are meant to enjoy ourselves.  Instead of laughing at themselves they blame and sue others. We must teach children to enjoy life and learning. We must infect youngsters with joy.

A school must be a place of enjoyment, if for no other reason than the fact that a child who enjoys school and learning is far more likely to work hard.  Indeed, the “success” of a school should be measured not so much by trophies and academic results but by the enjoyment of pupils; as Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori schools, put it, “One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.” A child who enjoys school will do well. Dale Carnegie, the famous entrepreneur, declared, “You never achieve real success unless you like what you are doing.” Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian ice hockey player, shared that “The only way a kid is going to practise is if it’s total fun for him… and it was for me.” Steffi Graf, the multiple tennis Grand Slam winner, shared the same view: “As long as I can focus on enjoying what I’m doing, having fun, I know I’ll play well.” The clear and strong implication, therefore, is that if a child does not enjoy her education she will not be “successful”. The role of schools and of parents must be to bring enjoyment into the learning process. We will raise much better children if we understand this. Our name must be lovejoy, not killjoy — we are raising children, not reputations.

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.

email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
website: www.atschisz.co.zw

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