Yale psychologist Seymour Saracen recently wrote: “When children start school, a message is conveyed to them that is as influential as it is subtle and unverbalized: ‘Forget or set aside your world of questions and interests. Your job, our responsibility, is to get you to learn rules, facts, and skills, without which you are nothing. School is not for play or for dreaming. It is work, serious work. And if you pay attention, work hard, someday when you are big, you will understand.’ '' He adds: “That children generally experience school as boring and uninteresting should occasion no surprise. What would require explanation is if they felt otherwise.’'
Or, in the satirical words of Finley Peter Dunne: “It don’t make much difference what you study, so long as you don’t like it.’'
In thousands of classrooms across this country, teachers--more often than not on their own initiative--are working to make sure their students like it; they’re finding ways to nourish curiosity and make schoolwork relevant, interesting, and fun.
Three articles in this issue’s “Teaching & Learning’’ section provide good examples.
“Magic SEED?,’' on page 22, is about a program that uses the Socratic method to help 4th, 5th, and 6th graders--especially disadvantaged students--learn high-level algebra. After observing special education students in one of Dallas’ poorest neighborhoods solving difficult problems, one visiting educator said, “All three of us came out of that classroom with tears in our eyes.’'
“Their Day In Court,’' on page 24, describes programs in Chicago, New York City, and Gary, Ind., that help young people understand the legal system by involving them directly in it. The students--many of them inner-city youngsters--not only come to understand the system but also gain a new appreciation of their rights and responsibilities within it.
The article on page 30 describes an interdisciplinary program, designed by teachers and local scientists, that mixes state-ofthe-art technology and environmental awareness. Using satellite images and computers, elementary, middle, and high school students in Boothbay Harbor and Wiscasset, Maine, are preparing detailed maps of land and water resources that will be used by county planners.
Then there are Geraldine Blakely and Daucenia Hunter, whose story begins on page 50. These teachers have helped develop materials and activities to supplement The New Explorers, a new Public Broadcasting Service series designed to make science come alive for young people like the Chicago 7th graders pictured here having lunch with a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. And, in the process, Blakely and Hunter themselves have embarked on an intellectual adventure that is changing their lives.
The programs described in these articles are predicated on the premise that virtually all children can learn and will be more disposed to do so if they can see the value and the relevance of the lesson.
As this column is being written, on the fifth day of the Persian Gulf War, millions of students are learning a very relevant lesson. In thousands of schools across the nation, teachers are trying to help students understand what is happening in that distant desert region and why. As students worry, question, and even protest, teachers--recognizing that this is a significant “teaching moment’'--have seized the opportunity.
As one teacher says in the “Current Events’’ story on page 14, “When something like this happens, schools are the greatest places in the world to be, because there is such curiosity and such interest.’'
In that sense, is it really too much to hope that schools would always be the greatest places in the world to be?---Ronald A. Wolk
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Connections: ‘The Greatest Places In The World’