September 5, 2023
Publication is scheduled for early October 2023. For updates on the publication of this book, click here. This is the first of two excerpts from Stephen’s new book.
Visit any classroom from ten years ago (and many still operating today), or watch any pseudo-inspirational educator as a hero film, and you’ll be confronted with the annoyingly persistent question: “Why do we have to learn this?” Also presented in the form of “When are we ever going to use this?”, the question has led many an otherwise fine teacher down the path of self-doubt and distraction.
“Because” the well-meaning teacher responds, “Because, you’ll need this in the future.”
“But when?” the student persists.
“When you get a career. This stuff is important. You’ll see. It just is. Now let’s turn to page 265 and complete the first ten problems.”
And with that seemingly simple response, the teacher just lost all credibility in the eyes of the students. This is the hard truth that we as educators all subconsciously know and yet often fail to recognize—our students are smarter than we give them credit for. Yes, even that one student you’re now thinking of, sitting in the corner, and scoffing at 80% of everything you say, even she is smarter than we give her credit for. And they know—they know what is of value and what is not. They know what will help them build a successful future and what will not. And they know when they are being duped.
Lest you immediately dismiss me and write me off as a contrarian who wants to undermine the very nature of traditional education and core classes, please understand my intention: student engagement. When I first started as a high school English teacher, I was tasked with teaching sophomore students, and more specifically, with teaching them to read and analyze archaic works of literature before writing eloquently on thematic issues from the texts. From George Eliot’s Silas Marner to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, these students were encouraged to read beyond the ancient words to find meaning through a deeper understanding of the human experience.
And it was valuable because I believed it was valuable. I worked, harder than I ever imagined possible at convincing sixteen-year-old adolescents that there was intent and purpose behind their assignments, that there was a Why that would help them establish a level of success and…