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The State of Education: A Love Of Learning

04/12/10 5:55PM By Leora Dowling
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(HOST) This week, VPR's commentators are writing about the state of education. Leora Dowling is first up, with her thoughts about curiosity, and what's become of the love of learning.

(DOWLING) I began substitute teaching at my local high school and middle school back in September, and I love it.  My students are smart, nice, and filled with energy and promise.  They are technically savvy and can actually study while listening to loud music.  As always, some students are highly motivated, while others are not.

One thing I have noticed now more than ever before is that there doesn't seem to be too much enthusiasm for learning just for the sake of learning any more.  It seems kids who strive for good grades often do it to get into good colleges, so they can someday make good money, not so they can expand their horizons.  Even more distressing are the kids who have their lives already planned out and have decided that they don't need to know about ancient Greece or Shakespeare - won't need geometry or the periodic table.  Many are incurious and don't like to read.

This is sad.  I was taught to love learning and to be proud of my intellect.  I can't imagine how predictable my life would have been without my formal education and all the reading, studying, and exploring I've done on my own.  But it's hard to convey the value of knowledge to young people, especially in a world where they're bombarded by information 24/7 - a world where no deep thinking is required because someone or something - a parent, boss, or computer - will do it for them.  In this world there's no silence or stopping.  Texting, video games, iPods, and Facebook have replaced playing, daydreaming, reading, and creating.

But this shift away from the intellect isn't their fault.  We live in a nation where politicians brag about their average grades and where intellectuals have been systematically demonized.

We adults are obsessed with superficial success.  We revere those born beautiful or athletic, not those who persevere in the classroom.  Nowadays the smart and shrewd are not just corporate scions; they're professional gamblers who play poker on TV.  Young people have noticed that those who lie, cheat, steal, or sleaze their way to the top often get rich and famous.  They wonder why they should labor over learning when there are so many shortcuts, and infamy is short-lived.

We've created a monster.  We've replaced thinking with test scores, excelling with winning, and well-roundedness with MBAs.  Far too many believe: the easier way is good enough.

Which is not to say all my students are blase about learning.  Every day I meet kids who are deeply curious - even though curious isn't cool.  And I still believe that every young person has the potential to be intrigued by a subject and inspired by a good teacher.  Add to the equation a parent who encourages by example... a community that celebrates intellectual success... and a renewed sense of pride in accomplishments of the mind.  With all that, we may someday defeat the monster of mediocrity.



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The State Of Education Main Page
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