LEARNING IS HARD WORK

 

School is a place of learning. It is not a place of entertainment or relaxation, like a theater or like the beach. That means that school is essentially a workplace and that the pleasure to be derived from school is integrally related to the satisfaction derived from accomplishing a hard job.

That means, too, that a day at school can sometimes be routine and tiresome. Irritating and tedious tasks have to be completed in order that a student may tackle the exciting and challenging problems that occur increasingly in the continuum of the school years. Sometimes the activities involved in acquiring basic skills-which are the foundation of all learning-may look and sound unbearably monotonous to an adult, and they may also be wearying or confusing to a student who has not vet attained mastery of a particular cluster of skills. So it is only natural that a day at school should sometimes be difficult for a student.

Most teachers try to provide demanding work for students. Indeed most parents expect them to do so. But once in a while a teacher gets the unpleasant feeling that parents are more enthusiastic about the teacher who can keep a student entertained than about the one who assigns hard work.

Yet hard work and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. Nor can entertainment alone lead to the long-lasting satisfaction in achievement that is necessary for sound fife adjustment. In fact, how often do adults lament that they haven't learned to handle their leisure effectively so that it is without some boredom and dissatisfaction? Why should a young person have a different experience with an entertainment in which she or he is a passive receiver, and not a participant?

It is the long-term duration of the student's life that learning is all about. Being able to solve problems for the future is one of the most desirable outcomes of all education. Since problem solving is not a simple exercise, however, it is unreasonable to think that learning toward this end should permit school days that always ended with smiling happiness.

Let's face it-achieving excellence takes sweat, as well as nerve and tedium. And it often brings great frustration. If a job is to be performed well, it must meet high standards of quality, either technical or artistic.

Suppose we call a plumber to repair a leaking pipe in our home. A good job, thoroughly, done, is our main concern, isn't it? Whether the plumber has to sweat of fret, or whether she or he does the job with the utmost facility is of little concern to us, as long as the pipe is effectively sealed and the plumber doesn't have to be asked to return in a few days to repair the same pipe again. We are concerned about the result of the work, not about the attitude of the plumber during the job.

Of course, are closer to their parents and teachers than the plumber who repairs a pipe. That means we are more involved with their attitudes toward their friends and teachers and parents than we would be with similar attitudes on the part of the plumber, who may not be elated at having been selected by us to seal a pipe, but who can have the satisfaction of a quality job thoroughly and skillfully done.

Some parents take the instructional process for granted. They assume that students absorb knowledge automatically. They even may view young people as passive receivers, rather than as participants in learning. And they often don't realize that students' attitudes-both positive and negative-may matter in the long run. Not that attitudes toward their daily work are absolutely crucial to the quality of their learning, but father that they must develop an awareness of the importance of quality if they are to learn to do any job thoroughly.

In order to accomplish a high quality of learning in school, students must place a high demand on the school's resources, on teachers and learning materials as well. The more they learn, the more questions they will require adults to answer.

In other words, the more they learn, the more they will need parents to stay a jump ahead of them so that the home may share in the instructional process. That is very demanding on parents, who have other things to do, other worries-about work, about budgets, about personal problems, about arranging repairs to property. What a temptation to say, Look, I'm busy now," or "Later. Can't you see I'm reading the paper?" A young person's learning is hard work for parents, too!

So, as in most other concerns of life, there is more than one point of view about schooling. If you don't want your children to ask questions constantly, and if you want them to come home all smiles every day from the pure entertainment of school, you might prefer to send them to a school that won't stress hard work. But they might as well go to the movies or sit before the TV set instead, absorbing cartoons and adventure stories and advertisements for ever more entertaining toys.

Your children would be quietly occupied and blissfully happy - for a while anyway, until that peculiar malaise of boredom set in. But in all probability they would also be ignorant of those fundamental skills on which the structure of all knowledge and the possibility of successful -adaptation to life in the future are based.

Another point of view - that requiring your active involvement - may be harder to put into practice. Next time your children come home tired and out of sorts from a hard day at school, take time to think about the choice you have. If you want to participate in their learning, you can help them understand that learning is important to their lives, that it is necessarily hard work at times, that it doesn't always come easily or without mistakes, that there is a value in the very difficulty of the work.

If that is hard to make young people understand, remind them of some of the trouble their favorite characters in books or TV programs have. Nothing is achieved without some difficulty, even in the Land of Make-Believe.

Young people may not return from school with a treasure chest of gold and jewels weighing down each arm, but they'll have something much more tangible-the reward of knowledge acquired through involvement with their tasks and an understanding of the elements of good learning skills.

Learning is hard work. And the future of all of us-students, parents, teachers, the community at large-depends on it.

 return to pobct homepage