The other day I gave my students a scenario to write about as their 100-word warm-up:
Ninth graders around the United States are having a hard time caring about school. To some, it’s so boring or pointless that they consider dropping out — even in ninth grade. Imagine you are writing an article to these ninth graders and that your goal is to convince them to finish — and even enjoy — their K-12 education. What would you say in your letter?
(Why this prompt? It has to do with a common mechanism in the wise interventions we analyze inside the Student Motivation Course. Basically, placing students in the position of expert — you tell someone else why they ought to care about ___________ — makes it more likely that their beliefs about a given topic will shift. But the reasoning behind the prompt isn’t the point of this article. So, back to the point.)
(And if you’d like to learn more about 100-word warm-ups, getting kids to do more writing, and better/saner grading practices, read Ch 6 of These 6 Things.)
After the writing, I had students pair up and then share out what they wrote. The response I want to focus on in this article is Jayke's.
What Jayke basically argued is that students should apply themselves to their studies because doing so will help them learn things, and learning things — “putting knowledge in your head,” as Jayke put it — makes it possible to think thoughts that you otherwise couldn’t think.
What Jayke, a fourteen-year-old barely two weeks into his high school career had intuited is that there is such a thing as a life of the mind, and that this life is richer or poorer for the ideas and concepts and fact constellations that one furnishes the mind with. In other words, Jayke beat me by twenty years to the startling realization that knowledge doesn’t just make it possible for us to think critically and argue well and learn faster and comprehend our reading.
What Jayke figured out is that we think from what we know. In this way, knowing things actually shapes who we are. Knowledge is an integral part of our very identity.
So what happens when we spend years of curricular time over-emphasizing knowledge-agnostic skills? We end up sustaining achievement gaps (as Natalie Wexler argues in her new book) and impoverishing our students’ later ability to think, to learn, to engage, and even to be.
The less I know about a subject, the more boring that subject is. That was Jayke’s claim. And I think he sees it in the hallways in the ways his peers treat “the others” in their lives, and I think he sees it in ever-truncating political discourse.
Knowing things makes things more exciting and interesting.
I think Jayke's right.
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