When I was young, my big sister went off to the Army. We all admired her for having the gumption to do something so challenging and so, well, unpleasant - as Boot Camp.
On the rare occasions that she could call home, she told us of miserable ordeals like long marches in full gear, or running for further than I cared to think about. And, she was homesick.
I knew that she was dutiful and believed that she was doing the right thing, but that it was tough.
I was in for a real shock when she came home on leave the first time. She didn't feel "dutiful" and miserable as I had thought. She LOVED the Army! She was incredibly enthusiastic about everything military! At the time, I thought she was a sort of a weird anomaly.
But then, over the years, as I met more and more graduating Basic Trainees, I discovered that they're almost ALL very enthusiastic about the military. They've been through what is arguably one of the most difficult experiences of their young lives, and they LOVE it! And, the tougher the military branch, or the tougher the unit, the more enthusiastic the trainee. The members of the special forces, whose training is completely miserable - are usually the most Gung-ho!
The combination of dedication and sacrifice, combined with the elation of knowing that they are GOOD at something that is challenging created an irrepressible love of service.
After reflecting on this for some years, I realized that this phenomenon I observed was explained in the Bible, where it says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." "Treasure" usually implies some sort of cost, and sacrifice, and difficulty. Not non-stop fun.
How does this apply to a love of learning?
Frequently, I hear parents say that education has to be fun in order for a child to develop a love of learning. That if this or that curriculum isn't enjoyable for a child, it should be jettisoned. If a child isn't enthusiastic about learning, it shouldn't be pushed, but that the parent or educator should follow a child's lead, and let the child do only what interests them. That there should be no unpleasant repercussions for bad behavior, for fear the student will stop loving learning. (And, by extension, I hear parents make the same claims about their Child's Christian life - that if Church isn't fun, maybe they shouldn't be made to go - they might start to hate it. If prayer & Bible reading aren't entertaining - maybe they shouldn't be encouraged too much. )
But, no one ever seems to check to see if there's objective evidence that this entertainment-centered education model actually works to create a love of learning, or if it merely facilitates a love of entertainment.
In fact, when we look at adults who love learning, many of them have been through arguably miserable educational experiences. Seldom do you hear people say that earning an MD, PhD or JD - or mastering a new language, becoming a virtuoso on a musical instrument, or getting a patent on a new invention, or winning an olympic medal - were "a lot of fun." Quite the contrary - many of them will tell you how difficult, and indeed unpleasant, parts of those achievements were. Yet, these are often the very people who enthusiastically pursue the NEXT difficult achievement! And proclaim their love of their field of endeavor.
This is consistent with St. Paul's teaching in the Bible:
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)
I'd like to assert that tough, and challenging learning experiences ENCOURAGE a love of learning, rather than destroying it.
That doesn't mean that the young learner won't whine, complain, and tell you how horrible it is while it is happening - just like my sister complained about Boot Camp.
I regularly point my daughter back to learning experiences she "hated" that produced for her skills that she NOW loves (like reading).
As parent-educators, do we set ourselves up for misery and eventual failure when we expect homeschool days to be filled with proverbial unicorns, sprinkles and rainbows?
Think it over - look around at the adults you know. Which ones spend the most time learning - and love learning the most - the ones who have "fun" at it, or the ones whose academic pursuits have been tough & challenging?
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