“There’s no way they’re learning – it looks like they’re having way too much fun.”
If I hadn’t heard it, I couldn’t have come up with it myself – it was just too perfect of a straight line. Whoever came up with, “No pain no gain” has hopefully recanted by now; and if it hasn’t happened yet, her or his community service should be to come up with ten equally memorable positive bumper sticker-ready sayings. On a very primitive level, there is something to the adage that we can truly appreciate a cold glass of water only after we’ve known thirst; that, to use a locally appropriate example, the first day of blue sky and sunshine is most valued after a long, cold winter. But is human nature so warped as to prevent us from enjoying something unless we’ve slogged through the mud to get there?
Enthusiasm and engagement have never – ever – meant a lack of content. The arrogance of the would-be formal educator, who would sneer at the joy (!) that took place in an informal setting, was not proof of expert pedagogy or subject mastery. At best it was evidence of insecurity – or even counselor-envy. If they were having so much fun they simply couldn’t be learning.
If we’re to believe that affect drives cognition, then the positive emotional attachment to a subject will nearly always lead to greater engagement with that subject, which in turn will lead to greater understanding. The teacher that dresses and speaks like Hanna Senesh for her lesson on the partisans during World War II isn’t avoiding that moving page in an otherwise dark chapter in our people’s history; she’s enhancing it. She’s telling the story by adding a dimension, not by leaving anything out. If it’s only about the accent and the paratrooper’s uniform then it’s mere theatrics; but if it’s augmenting the facts and dates and names with color and depth and humanity – then how are her students not going to remember the lesson? How will they not reach for another book, wonder more deeply about who that young woman was and what motivated her – and whether they would do the same?
We should be greedy – we should want and demand the accurate and connected content and the creative energy and engagement – and yes, the fun – that comes with sophisticated teaching and learning.
Jerry D. Isaak-Shapiro
Head of School