Do You Like School?

Do You Like School?

Do students at your school seem bored? Do you ever feel bored? If so, when? Why?

The authors of the essay you are about to read spent six years studying high schools across the United States. What did they find? They noted that “boredom was pervasive.” They also learned that debate, drama and other extracurriculars frequently provide the excitement many classrooms lack.

Do you agree with their findings? Or do you think school, for the most part, is actually interesting, rigorous and engaging?

In the Opinion essay “High School Doesn’t Have to Be Boring,” Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine write:

When you ask American teenagers to pick a single word to describe how they feel in school, the most common choice is “bored.” The institutions where they spend many of their waking hours, they’ll tell you, are lacking in rigor, relevance, or both.

They aren’t wrong. Studies of American public schools from 1890 to the present suggest that most classrooms lack intellectual challenge. A 2015 Gallup Poll of nearly a million United States students revealed that while 75 percent of fifth-grade students feel engaged by school, only 32 percent of 11th graders feel similarly.

What would it take to transform high schools into more humanizing and intellectually vital places? The answer is right in front of us, if only we knew where to look.

The Op-Ed continues:

As we spent more time in schools, however, we noticed that powerful learning was happening most often at the periphery — in electives, clubs and extracurriculars. Intrigued, we turned our attention to these spaces. We followed a theater production. We shadowed a debate team. We observed elective courses in green engineering, gender studies, philosophical literature and more.

As different as these spaces were, we found they shared some essential qualities. Instead of feeling like training grounds or holding pens, they felt like design studios or research laboratories: lively, productive places where teachers and students engaged together in consequential work. It turned out that high schools — all of them, not just the “innovative” ones — already had a model of powerful learning. It just wasn’t where we thought it would be.

Consider the theater production that we observed at a large public high school in an affluent suburban community. Students who had slouched their way through regular classes suddenly became capable, curious and confident. The urgency of the approaching premiere lent the endeavor a sense of momentum. Students were no longer vessels to be filled with knowledge, but rather people trying to produce something of real value. Coaching replaced “professing” as the dominant mode of teaching. Apprenticeship was the primary mode of learning. Authority rested not with teachers or students but with what the show demanded.

The essay goes on:

How can we make what happens before the bell more like what happens after it?

Schools need to become much more deeply attached to the world beyond their walls. Extracurriculars gain much of their power from their connections to their associated professional domains. School subjects, in comparison, feel devoid of context. Promising schools tackle this dilemma in different ways: Some use project-based learning to engage students in their local communities; some collaborate with museums, employers and others who can give students experiences in professional domains; still others prioritize hiring teachers who have had experience working in (and not just teaching about) their fields. All of these choices bring meaning to work that is too often taught in a vacuum.

Students, read the entire essay, then tell us:

— What, if any, observations about schools and students made by the authors resonate with your experiences? Does anything in the Op-Ed differ from what you have observed about school? Explain.

— Is school really as boring as some students say it is? Explain.

— Do you participate in any extracurricular activities? If so, what do you like — or dislike — about them? Is there anything about that activity or activities that you recommend be replicated in your core classes? Explain.

— Whether you think school is boring or not, what suggestions do you have to make your classes more relevant, engaging or rigorous? Do you agree with the authors’ recommendations?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.