The above title is my starting point for an argument against this commonly held belief that children are either naturally curious learners, or that we can somehow make them so, and that in doing so we would guarantee any child’s trajectory to academic and social success. Educationalists seem to forget that success comes off the back of hard work, most of which needs to happen because of a conscious choice to pull one’s own socks up on a consistent basis. The trouble is most humans, including the young ones, are a little bit lazy, but this fact seems to be glossed over in Education.
When I look back at the times in my life when I have worked my hardest and learned the most, they have either been the result of my being mega enthusiastic about a subject, or a result of basically being forced to work hard by some kind of outside force. Those of the progressive persuasion would probably seek to dwell on those times when I was somehow infected by enthusiasm and how this drove me to further success, for example when I taught myself to play the recorder and read music at about 7, and then went on to experiment with all different kinds of music and musical instruments. However, it wasn’t until I had had a formal musical education (with a much more difficult instrument) much later that my own musical ability was honed. Until then, I was basically a bored (we had no TV) silly amateur aimlessly meandering around, albeit better than most, but there was no way I could’ve mastered the music of my favourite composers had it not been for the sheer hard graft basically forced upon me by the teachers at the music school I attended every Saturday. The great thing about playing in an orchestra is that being lazy, not listening and mucking about makes you stick out like a sore thumb because when the conductor counts you all in and you mess up, you look like an idiot and not only can everyone see it, they can hear it too. There is no hiding place and time wasters either get shamed into compliance, or they just get booted out because they spoil absolutely everything for absolutely everyone. This is also how society used to work.
If I had just been left to pursue my own musical interests on my own, I would not have achieved anywhere near the level of musical competence and I probably would’ve experienced a dwindling of interest due to the limitations of my own skill and knowledge set. Why? Because enthusiasm is not enough; you need to knuckle down and work hard, even when you want to give up through frustration and mental (and sometimes physical) pain. The pressure from teachers, an expectation of perfection during performance, a rigorous testing regime, and the potential embarrassment of not living up to the high standards of the music school I attended ensured that I stayed on that steep trajectory to success. Would I have chosen this narrow, treacherous path? Not at first. Later, when I was an older teenager, I chose to keep going with this monk-like commitment to personal progress, but it was because good habits had been forced upon me and it felt almost therapeutic in the end, plus of course the kudos and pleasure from being able to play music very well then provided extra motivation. To this day, I have sought to replicate this kind of dedication on my own in other pursuits and have never been able to emulate it 100% on my own.
So, why do primary and secondary schools harp on about and create systems, lessons and protocols that attempt to get children curious and enthusiastic about a subject, usually through the medium of ‘fun’ lessons and ‘relevant’ subject content, while ignoring the fact that what works best is good teaching (the kind that looks you in the eye and tells you to pull your socks up), high expectations, discipline, competition and regular testing? Even if most children were infected with enthusiasm because of some kind of growth mindset assembly, a wacky ‘Make your own Moon’ project in science, a discovery based french lesson, or a maths lesson that didn’t feature any numbers at all, that would still leave one child either frustrated and not making any progress at all. To me, that is one child too many. Even my own children, despite working hard, are questioning the purpose of studying RE or Spanish (which horrifies me). Thank goodness they have the extra motivation of wanting to get straight As that keeps them from slacking off. What of other children though who don’t have the pressure from Tiger parents to do well though?
Even adults lack the commitment and drive necessary to achieve personal feats. If we all found it so easy to achieve off the back of enthusiasm alone, the personal training industry wouldn’t exist and we’d all be thin, multi-lingual athletes by now. But we’re not. We’re mostly fat, monolingual fair-weather joggers because we don’t have personal trainers and we’re not bothered about the consequences of lack of education or health because we have things like the NHS and unemployment benefits in this country. Also, let’s face it, we live in an ‘anything goes’ society that permits, celebrates even, general laziness and self-indulgence.
I find it odd that those who profess to be part of a caring profession seem to understand and care so little about the nature of humans, especially the little ones who have not had years to hone good habits. If we are in loco parentis, then surely we ought to be Tiger Teachers for those children who are not fortunate enough to have Tiger Parents?
Who’s with me?