Thursday, February 22, 2007

Motivating kids to learn

Kids don't always react the same to as each other to various attempts to motivate them. Paul Phillips says
I was too often told I was smart, and I never gained a taste for applying effort outside my areas of natural ability. I was always way too interested in getting the perfect grade as opposed to learning anything.


My reaction to being told I was smart as a kid was almost the opposite. I rejected grades, and just focused my education on topics I picked, not topics picked by my teachers. My target grade was a B or C, I'd pretty much stop and do something else once I knew I'd done enough to ensure a passing grade. In a 10th grade science final exam, where I was going to be allowed to leave when I finished the exam, I knew I needed a 56 on the final to make a C in the class. It was multiple choice, 100 questions. I left 44 answers blank and turned it in. It was just my way of showing disdain for adult approval.

To me, as a child, the educational system was just a rigid system that had been designed for the benefit of someone else, certainly not based on any interest in my education. When I was in the 6th grade we took some kind of standardized test at the beginning of the year. The two highest scores at each elementary school in Austin, Texas where then invited to a special summer program for smart kids on the University of Texas campus.

I didn't make great grades, but I read things that interested me, newspapers, adult novels, etc. I always scored well on standardized tests, and scored highest in the 6 grade class of my elementary school. So, even though I made B's and C's instead of A's I got an invitation to that summer program. The school principal tried to talk me into refusing the invitation so she could send a more deserving student (the 3rd place student who made all A's.). She actually used that term -- "more deserving".

That just steeled me. Do something to make the school principal look good? I don't think so. I insisted on going to that program.

The the true stupidity of formal education systems hit me right in the face. They had two tracks -- literature/history and math/science. You had to pick one. I wanted math/history. No, can't do that.

It was a morning program, 8:30 to 12:00. Math (or literature) was from 8:30 to 10, followed by a 30 minute break. Then in an entirely different building, different teacher, science (or history) from 10:30 to 12.

Math and History were taught in large lecture halls with plenty of seating.

There was no reason whatsoever, none, to not allow me to take math and history. They just didn't think it was appropriate to mix humanities and science. Had to pick one.

Screw them. After the first day me and a new friend who had the same interests as me went to math then cut science, going to the museum that first day. On later days we just hung around the beatniks on the UT drag (this was about 1961 or so), or sometimes went to the history lecture. They didn't call roll. We found we could just do what we wanted. That was a cool summer. The math lectures were on number theory and very interesting, the history was American History, post 1860 and was sometimes interesting.

But I discovered cutting classes was easy. By the ninth grade I was cutting so many boring classes I got expelled.

I went back, graduated from high school, and college, and grad school, even taught college blah, blah, blah

But that summer was probably the most interesting and informative educational experience I've ever had. That's when I learned that you don't have to listen to any of them.

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