During the first live episode of the #immooc, A.J. Juliani talked about the game of school that most kids play, and by this, he didn’t mean imaginative play where one of them is the teacher and the rest are the students. The game of school that he refers to is one that most kids will play throughout their k-12 schooling (if they decide to comply), and it involves one rule:
“If you keep the adults in front of you at school happy, the adults at home will be happy too.” A.J. Juliani
This notion of the “Game of School” really resonated with me, and really had me stop and think about my own school experience as a kid. How did I do at the game of school? I was a pro! Like A.J.’s 7 year old daughter, I figured out the game’s strategy right from the get-go, and aside from a short (and by short, I mean 4 weeks short) rebellious phase in grade 9, I mostly played by the game’s rules. The values and morals instilled in me by my parents, meant that I pretty much followed the rules that applied in whatever setting I was placed in. I remember often asking “Am I allowed to…?”
At school, this meant that I dedicated the necessary efforts in all subject areas, in order to get my work in on time and in order to keep all of the adults happy. Being what Howard Gardner would call a verbal-linguistic learner (which is really the type of learner traditional classrooms are set up for) meant that I pretty much flew through the game with ease. I also never questioned the rules or asked to try something different to what was presented to me. I let the teachers find the problems or give the questions, and then I let them show me how to get to the solution. Basically, I complied, always!
During the live episode, John Spencer made the comment that compliance doesn’t equal engagement. This was definitely the case for me. Thinking about my own experience, as a result of playing by the rules in the “Game of School,” I ended up being fairly well-rounded as far as strengths go in the different subject areas. Although some might say that this is what school should be about, I am here to disagree. Did I comply? Completely! Was I engaged? Hardly (at least not most years)! And I never really excelled at any one thing or felt really confident in any specific area. My passions weren’t stoked and my curiosity died.
George Couros makes the following statement:
If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.
Was I a curious and engaged learner going in to school at 5 years old? I can’t remember that far back to answer my own question, but I think I can make the safe assumption that I was. I’ve never met a kid that age that wasn’t curious about learning new things. Am I a curious and engaged learner now? Totally! So what happened in between? When did my curiosity fade, and what brought it back?
When I think about what changed throughout my learning experiences (both as a k-12 student and as an adult learner now), I have a better understanding of what killed that curiosity for me, and equally, what brought it back. What changed, was the level of voice, choice and autonomy that was granted me.
Before starting school, I had a voice and I had choice in what I wanted to explore. I wandered about my world and asked questions as I explored. Nobody told me, “sorry we’re not learning about that this year,” or “you can’t paint your ideas, you have to write them.” This freedom encouraged a natural curiosity and a natural desire to learn and share my learning (and in whatever way I chose to).
As an adult learner, I have been re-granted that voice, choice and autonomy that I had before starting the “Game of School.” For once, I have passions, and I can really delve into these. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever learn about other things that I am less interested in, it just means that I get to spend more time on passion projects. Essentially, most of the time, I choose what I want to learn, how I want to learn it, and how I want to share it.
Quite interestingly, one of my dad’s fondest memories of my youth is the artwork and drawings I used to create. They adorned every inch of the walls in our basement growing up. Not surprisingly, being back to a place where I can choose how to express myself, I have come full circle back to choosing drawing (sketchnotes) as a way to express and share a lot of my ideas and learning. The Game of School (or compliance) took that away from me for a while.
Now don’t get me wrong, compliance is not always a bad thing. We can’t live in a world where the rules don’t ever need to be followed, but what if our rules were different?
If school continues to be a place where students go to learn content, teachers will essentially become redundant. So, it’s time to change up the game!
Instead of strategic compliance, let’s make school a place where students go to learn how to learn. A place where they are allowed to discover and cultivate their passions everyday. One where they become experts at what they love (instead of mediocre at everything). Let’s make sure it’s a place that not only accepts, but celebrates diverse learning styles. One that values the pro-coders and gamers, just as much as the strong readers and writers. One that recognizes musical strength, just as much as athletic ability. And finally, let’s make school a place that asks, “what do you want to be now?” instead of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Who wants to play?!