I’ll cut to the chase. I know more about Greek mythology because half my summers were spent in my father’s library than because of anything l learned in school. My sister and I read, drew, made up stories and occasionally assigned each other book reports. I know about presidents who were assassinated or had attempts on their lives, including the sociopolitical economic situation surrounding the country at those times; I know much more than about these gentlemen than any other presidents. Why? All because I directed a production of a musical called Assassins.
At one point in time I could darn near recreate a Japanese Tea Ceremony to perfection, due to another theatrical project on the isolation, discovery and subsequent westernization of Japan. I venture so far as to say that the only reason I know how to string two sentences together in a cohesive manner can be directly tied to all of the plays, classical and modern, that I saw since my youth. No writing class taught me how to tell a good story. Listening and absorbing and encouragement did.
The connecting thread seems clear: for me and many others, most of our actual knowledge can be traced to topics that we enjoy. When we investigate or research for the pure joy of it, we don’t segment our interests into distinctive subjects, say: English, Math, Reading, World History, Social Studies, Geography (if that is even being taught any longer), U.S. History….the list continues.
So why do we ask our children to learn that way?
When we are interested in something, we don’t stop when the bell rings. We learn until we are full. We stop when we are satisfied or fall asleep with a book or laptop opened to the last page of our latest obsession..
The examples continue. To me, the point is clear. Give students some creative license. Validate their interests and capitalize on them. Who cares if they read Moby Dick or Catcher in the Rye or Great Expectations or Twilight? Encourage the Dickens fans to report on the historical accuracies and inaccuracies inherent in his stories. Ask the child in the corner who only wants to doodle if he knows that many great paintings began as sketches, and what different movements in art meant for the world at those times? Have the gamers follow their favorite brands in the stock market as if they owned a share; they can learn about the company, business decisions, economics, and maybe even know enough to read a stock portfolio one day.
Integrating learning based on interest creates critical thinkers and gives importance to their interests, to the things they care about in this world. Don’t you think that might make school more exciting?