A few days ago, while having a conversation with a colleague from the United States, I found a kinship with another person through being able to observe my surroundings and the people around it. Both of us came to the slightly unpleasant conclusion – some – no matter how much you try to inspire – are just not interested in learning. Moreover, we found that overall the Australian population in general is not interested in academics and snobs intellectualism like it is the plague.
An example? Her husband is a lecturer at a local university – head of a PhD program for Physical Movement. Out of 50 students in the program only 2 were Australians. The rest are international students. They found that this was because most students in the Bachelors Programs never went further in their education in this field because the science was seen to be “too hard”. I wondered how often this occurs in other courses and other universities.
Throughout our conversation we theorized why we believed this was the case. We know of parents that do not say flattering things about their school life and education to their children – yet they expect them to go to school, enjoy it and succeed. Culturally, Australia has a social norm that it’s “hard yakka” that get’s you through life successfully- meaning hard work through physical labour – rather than through academics. Alecia Simmonds found that:
“There’s also no room for cleverness in our models of masculinity or femininity. For women, intelligence equates with a dangerous independence that doesn’t sit well with your role as a docile adoring fan to the boys at the pub. It’s equated with sexual unattractiveness. And for men, carrying a book and using words longer than one syllable is a form of gender treason. It’s as good as wearing bumless chaps to a suburban barbecue. Real blokes have practical wisdom expressed through grunts and murmurs. Real Aussie chicks just giggle.”
Imagine being a child, struggling with a Mathematics assignment or Science homework, you go to your parents for help and the most common response one might get is helplessness. Helplessness because the content is beyond them. Helplessness in that they stopped learning about these things after they left school. Helplessness in knowing that their child’s knowledge of such things has more than likely surpassed their own. And the most heartbreaking of all? Helplessness that they cannot help their own child.
So a new question emerges – how can you expect a child, a teenager to want to learn when you yourself no longer show examples of expanding your learning?
I was a lucky child. My mother is a lifelong learner. From a very young age I remember her regularly working through crosswords, pedantically reading through page after page of a dictionary identifying words that she was unfamiliar with and compiling a book of unknown words filled with her scribbles and reflections using these words that she had just learnt. Safe to say she wasn’t someone most people wanted to play Scrabble with. The bookshelves were filled with books of many kinds, she read to us regularly about different animals around the world and Marco Polo’s voyage. She painted, sculpted and essentially just tinkered with anything she could get her hands on. In 1999 we had our first computer and I learnt how to use it alongside her – she wasn’t scared of things she didn’t know – if anything it made her want to throw herself at it more – to conquer it. I was inspired to learn about the world because adults around me made it seem so interesting and such a worthwhile thing to do on its own. Unfortunately, not all kids are so lucky.
As a teacher, it is not uncommon for me to hear students mention how much they “hate” or “dislike” learning. To some it’s a means to an end – something you have to do to get a job and earn money. If you ask them why they dislike it so much you get statements like “Because it’s hard”
or “because they teach us things we won’t use when we need a job” or “My parents told me they never used this stuff after high school anyway – so why should I bother?”. I sometimes wonder if their parents knew how much of these words affects the way their child sees learning?
In addition to the abhorrence to learning that occurs in households, I have also heard vitriol towards teachers by parents themselves. Therefore diminishing the teacher’s ability to inspire the student to listen to them and hopefully instill the beauty of lifelong learning into that child or teen. We need to remember that as adults – our actions and our words around children affects the way they see the world greatly – and if the adults have a negative view of education the the child will run away with this idea and see learning and therefore schools and the teachers within it with disdain.
So…how do we change this?
First of all, they need to know that learning is fun. They need to be encouraged to learn about what they want. The moment you steer a child away from learning something they have chosen is the moment you take that joy away from them. Who cares if you think it won’t make them money or get them a job someday? Isn’t it worth it just to see them enjoy wanting to learn about something?
Secondly, what language are we using about learning? Should learning be easy? Should it be challenging? Should it be something that we only do during “school” hours? I personally set my students a challenge every holidays – I ask them – what are you going to learn on the break? I encourage them to find something that takes their interest and delve into it as deep as they possibly can. It could be anything! Fairies, motorbikes or zombies! I myself have gone through stages were the stories from the Tianamen Square Massacre became an obsession – trawling through pages and pages of books and webpages to learn as much as I could about this astounding event, the people, the revolution and the secrecy. I spent a few years of my high school life learning how to be a Pagan. I have picked up acrylics, watercolors, gouache, clay and even had a stint as a life drawing model – learning how to hold still for ridiculous minutes at a time is not easy!! I have had a total of 36 positions within the Hospitality industry – learning and working in the industry – from cleaning rooms, preparing food and through to management. In addition to which – I spend a lot of my free time learning new recipes and coming up with new ideas to inspire and instill a sense of awe and wonder not just in myself but in the people around me.
Lastly, make sure the kids see it. Make sure they see you learn. Make sure they hear about what you learn. Make sure that they hear it is fun despite how challenging it can be sometimes. Make sure to demonstrate that it is OK not to know something and to ask for help. Whoever said learning was supposed to be easy?
Being buried in a sea of people unwilling to learn new things, unable to expand their mind for lack of want due to previous and current influences – it is daunting to be the one standing out because you want to learn. As a teenager, with the challenges of peer pressure and being just like everyone else – there is a possibility that this urge for learning can be sapped out of one’s system. Though, one shouldn’t fear as…