Can learning be fun?

I’ve longed complained about modern education and I’m far from alone. Most people look back on their years of institutionalized learning (in schools, universities, private lessons etc.) as being unpleasant.

But I’m a great fan of learning. I love reading books, consuming knowledge etc. This opens up an interesting question. Why is “education” so painful and “learning” so fun?

I stumbled across an interesting site on teaching guitar and the author has several articles on learning theory. In one he gets tackles this general issue.

It may seem odd then that in the mind of many individuals, the idea of learning has quite negative associations. This springs from two main sources: Parenting and Schooling.

The word ‘learn’ is often used in anger and frustration by parents:

“When will you ever learn / Why can’t you learn / You’d better start learning…
… to behave/ to do as you’re told/ to be sensible/ to sit still/ to be quiet”
…etc. etc. This introduces, from an early age, the idea that learning has an element of duress attached to it.

When your child comes home from school complaining of boredom – it is not learning that has bored him – remember: “Learning opens doors, widens horizons, adds colour to our experience, makes life more interesting.” Rather it is a lack of learning brought about by the less than ideal conditions that modern education systems attempt to operate under.

Although improvements are continually being made to education there remains the basic set of problems that spring from the financial and logistical restraints placed upon schools where typically, one teacher is charged with the task of causing learning to occur in as many as 30 children simultaneously, often in subjects they have little or no natural interest in.

Unfortunately it gets worse. The whole subject of teaching gets mixed in with the subject of control and, where teachers feel particularly vulnerable, outright subjugation.

Both points strike me as spot on. I think part of the problem with education is that it tries to invoke learning when it’s simply not desired. Some kid is digesting a big lunch while dreaming about the girl he has a crush on and he then walks into a class and is supposed to care about the table of elements. Not gonna happen.

Of course, one might argue that the solution is to give kids more control over when they learn. Don’t make them enter their biology class until they’re ready. But with kids being the impetuous and lazy bastards that they are, that method probably wouldn’t work either. Perhaps there’s some middle ground?

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