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  • Travis Lish

Do Schools Hinder Learning?

Bringing the Disengaged to Life


It was a typical Wednesday class at a high school. I had been with this class for several weeks and the students were becoming comfortable around one another. The class was going well, but I was concerned about a student named Josh who was typically disengaged and almost never looked up from the ground. I had tried several techniques to engage him, but nothing had worked as well as I would have liked.


We were discussing possible business ideas and how to come up with viable business models when Josh, who seemed to be day dreaming, lifted his head and his eyes lit up. Looking around at his classmates, he said, "You guys! What if we contract performers to perform at smaller venues and partner with Make-A-Wish foundation to make kids' wishes come true!" He reasoned, “We would be helping the kids and we would even be able to pay the performers to come because they would draw a crowd!”


Before that moment, I had little doubt that Josh was daydreaming through most of our classes, but that day something clicked. An idea came to his mind that genuinely excited him and he was eager to explore the possibility because it was something that mattered to him. His classmates rallied around him as they discussed what the business model would look like.


Are Schools Hindering Learning?


Teenagers will only enthusiastically participate in, and do things that are interesting to them. Does this come as any surprise? It shouldn’t. Adults are exactly the same way. Think about it: do you regularly read articles or books about topics that feel irrelevant to you? If you are like most people, the answer is no. When is the last time you picked up a periodic table to study the different elements? Unless you're a chemist, probably high school.


While adults tell teens over and over again that they should invest their time in one thing or another, most teens don’t understand why it matters and usually can't see how it is relevant to them. Students sit through school wondering, "Why does this matter?" and "When am I ever going to use this?".


While it's important for young students to be exposed to a wide variety of topics in order to discover their interests and natural talents, most schools introduce these topics to their students in dull and easily testable ways.


Which Would You Prefer?


Let's imagine that you are interested in space and you dream of becoming an astronaut. Consider the following approaches with this question in mind: Which scenario would more likely inspire you to pursue your dream and learn the complexities of astrophysics?


Scenario 1. You watch videos of the first lunar landing and famous NASA launches throughout history. You think through different challenges faced by those early astronauts and learn about how space travel has progressed. Your teacher then gives you a booklet and rocket supplies with the assignment to get your rocket off of the ground. After assembling and launching your first rocket that fell after reaching an altitude of 300 feet, your teacher invites you to research what it would take to get your rocket up to 600 feet. How about 30,000 feet?


Scenario 2. You are told to read pages 1-24 in your physics text book and answer questions 1-8 in the back of the book. Becoming an astronaut isn't a question on the test, therefore, it won't be addressed in class.


Sadly, scenario 2 is the primary approach used in our public education system. Using this simple example begs the question: Are we hindering learning with our current school system?


Are we taking students filled with curiosity and killing their desire to learn? I don't know about you, but as an adult, I'd have to get paid a decent wage to participate in scenario 2, why do we think that it will work for kids?


A Better Way


Josh, and millions like him, sit through school classes just going through the motions. They look at books and assignments they are told need to be finished. Many don't do the assigned work or do just enough to get the passing grade. Others do as they're told, not understanding why, and their curiosity, desire, and learning all suffer as a result.


Josh's idea to create connections between performers and those in need hasn't come to fruition yet, but perhaps someday. For now, Josh is finding purpose in his senior year of high school as he builds his own photography business. Through his business, he is learning the importance of interpersonal communication, sales, presentation skills, writing, and an array of skills pertaining to business.


Hands-on and applied learning should not only be a reality for business students, but for all students. Real learning can take place in our schools as students begin to understand how topics like math, science and writing relate to their lives.


Without that personal connection or a reason to learn the material, teens will be left without motivation and they will dodge learning. If they feel a need to know about a topic, they will begin to search on their own.


Then again, aren't adults the same way?


The Startup Academy


Our students are the future workers and leaders of tomorrow. If education is their best shot at success, we can't afford to fail them. The Startup Academy is dedicated to lighting the fire of entrepreneurship within teen students to help them gain the skills and confidence to create businesses. The process directs students toward purpose and passion that makes learning fun. We're committed to doing everything in our power to prepare teens for the future.


What will you do to increase the learning of your teen? If you are a teen, are you ready to do something that you care about?

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