What’s to Like about School?

Did you like school? (Or, if you’re a student now, do you?)

I’m reading Daniel T. Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? It’s totally readable and very interesting, and I’ll post a review when I’m done. (I’ve also joined a reading group to discuss it, over at Dangerously Irrelevant; if you’ve been wanting to pick this book up, a book club might give you the kick in the pants you need.)

When I posted the title of the book on my Facebook page, one of my Facebook acquaintances replied directly to the author’s question, writing,

“Same reason we hate boring movies … no engaging, nothing to relate with. For starters …”

Now, Willingham’s responses are quite a bit more subtle. He’s a cognitive scientist, and his explanations of why we like to think but find it difficult are intriguing. But my acquaintance’s response got me thinking.

When it came to school, I WAS engaged. I DID relate to the material, whether it was geometric proofs or chemical reactions or novels. But I didn’t like gym, because I’d didn’t like running around, and I had trouble in a few academic areas – history seemed like a dry list of facts about politics, and the ultimate goal of studying physics seemed to be understanding how a carburator works. (I’m now well aware that neither of these things is true, but school was capable of reducing them to that.)

Did you like school? How about the classroom, specifically – if you liked learning in school, why? If you didn’t, why not, and what could have made it more enjoyable? What about your children – how do they feel about it? Have they told you why, or do you have an inkling?


5 thoughts on “What’s to Like about School?

  1. Yes, for the most part I enjoy school. In the general sense, I liked HS and the few college classes I have taken.

    I speak of enjoying it in the present tense because I have never really left off learning. Today, the internet is my tutor. Tomorrow, I may be back in a classroom to explore something new or review long-ago grammar rules.

    Either way, I’m still a student … and a teacher. There seems to be no way to ‘audit’ life.

    I hated the ‘slow’ classes where the teachers seemed bound and determined to make certain that the, um, “learning impaired” should get just as good of an education as I did. Instead, I ended up knowing only the little that they did.

    Recognizing that I had a serious IQ and was being stifled in my classes, the school counselor shuffled me off to ‘special education’.

    Yup, for about a month I helped the other kids button their shirts and learn to tie their shoes. Eventually I was able to convince my parents that the guidance counselor was at least mistaken, if not downright incompetent.

    The best move I ever made was to flunk a math class, resentful at going home with 50 or more problems to work every night. BORING! We got a little past half-way in the book.

    In summer school, the instructor generally assigned no more than 5 problems under the theory that our grasp of the material – or lack thereof – could be shown without the drudgery.

    We finished the book. I got an “A”.

    The very best teachers I have ever had, and there have been several in that group, were stern about what actually hit their desks. I can recall a teacher who gave me a ‘D’ for a superb paper, superior in every way to the paper of the fellow next to me who had received an ‘A’. When I appealed the grade, she agreed that my paper was far superior to his. She also pointed out that what he had turned in was his very best work … but that I had been half-hearted and could have done far better than I actually had.

    The ‘D’ stayed.

    I worked hard afterward, but could only salvage a ‘C’ for the class.

    I also had the extreme good fortune to take the final English class of Mrs. Pamela Riesey.

    It was a ‘level 5’ English class … by permission / invitation only. It carried college credits at Eastern Michigan U. Mrs. Riesey was tenured … and irritated.

    On the first day of class she gave us a printed syllabus. I had never seen one of those in my life. Then she gave us a speech about being ‘un-fireable’ and, since this was her final year, not overly concerned with working with the administration in the future. She then told us that she had to create the syllabus to get the class and that we should file them in the BACK of our binders. We would get to them — in six weeks. And, we would complete them in the remaining twelve.

    ULP! The course was entitled “Seminar in Ideas” and was, in fact, a freshman level philosophy class. We covered at least 12 schools of philosophy in those weeks and we read at least two books a week for the class … with grueling ‘oral challenge’ reviews on Friday.

    But, before we got to that syllabus, she taught us to do something no other teacher had ever taken the time to do.

    She taught us how to take notes.

    No one had ever taught us how to take notes and, quite frankly, we hadn’t a clue. Mrs. Pamela Riesey spent six weeks engaged in the most inspired teaching I have ever seen. She bludgeoned us and she taught us … one foot in front of the other … about headings, sub-headings, indentation and all sorts of detail I’ve forgotten over the past 40 years and, near the end of those six weeks, my “Notes about note taking” were identical to her outline. Not merely close … identical.

    Can you imagine my sense of achievement?

    Those six weeks were the most important six weeks of the entire 13 years of my formal education.

    Teachers … how many assumptions are you making about your student’s prior education? Would you like to make a forty-year difference?


  2. I sat reading in class with a book on my lap for most classes. I liked this, but, no, I didn’t like school so much. I think it’s interesting that some of the subjects I like now are ones that I detested in school — history, for example. History is *stories* and other than Texas history, it never really came alive for me.

    Each year as my child sped through elementary school, I would admonish the teacher not to ruin my son’s enjoyment of school. But, of course, at some time being sad for missing school turned into the opposite.

    I was engaged in classes where I could engage with the teacher. I think that’s part of the success of teaching strategies like those described in “Work Hard, Be Nice” — by forcing the kids to be active participants in the classroom, you engage them in active listening, whether they want to or not.


  3. Bought the book yesterday. Will be joining you in Scott’s bookclub 🙂 I’m starting to read now because I’m moving next weekend and that, coupled with end of year exams, correcting, grading, etc… will make the first week of the club a tight one for me!


  4. I hated school for the most part. Once I joined the gifted program school became bearable, but that only lasted from second grade to sixth. After that, it was hell on earth for the next six years.

    What got to me most was being subjected to a room full of children my age who didn’t understand the world the way I did. I preferred the company of adults, much as my son does. People don’t understand why I homeschool him and tell me he’s missing out on social interaction, what a crime and disservice I’m doing him. I say not so, I’m allowing him to be himself and discover the world in a different way.

    My daughter, on the other hand, loves public school for all the social interaction it provides. She doesn’t give a fig about grades (she failed Biology and Algebra this year) and she sleeps through classes that don’t interest her, but for some reason no one complains because she’s “normal”, not a “shut-in” like my son.

    Drives me crazy, the socially accepted perception that the only good education is a packaged one. Teachers aren’t machines, they are individuals, as are students. And yet we see them both as cogs in a wheel, nothing more. Makes me sad.


  5. Thanks for these comments, guys. I’ve been away for the past few days and haven’t had a chance to respond, but the common thread seems to be that there is no common thread; we each responded to different things where school was concerned, and recognize that others also responded to different things than we did. And Tracy, I hope you enjoy the book as much as I am!


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