When I think back to my own education, I remember learning about environmental science through trips to the regional parks every other year, writing through creative lessons driven by my own stories in middle school, money and stocks through a classroom “Monopoly money” system in 6th grade, and politics through a semester long role play in high school. This learning was meaningful, fun, and rooted in my community. It helped me grow as a learner and it helped me grow as a person. It was joyous.
Hopefully you can also recall a joyful learning experience. Maybe it was the time a teacher took you under her wing to learn something, or when you worked hard with your friends to get the dance just right for the talent show. Maybe it was the time you worked with your teammates to prepare for an upcoming tournament or when you worked with your class to raise money to support the New Orleans community after Hurricane Katrina.
Unfortunately, most of us have also had boring school experiences that stunted learning - hundreds of hours of teachers droning on in lecture mode, hundreds more hours of worksheets that lead nowhere, and textbooks with thousands of pages of dumbed down material that we did not even care about it. I can remember the drudgery of geometry, the year I stopped loving math, and the focus on formulas in AP Physics, a class I dropped halfway through the year.
This year, as a student in the Doctor of Education Leadership program at Harvard, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools. What I saw at some of our “best” schools was disturbing. Students in rows listening to teachers, students in rows working on worksheets, students in groups working individually on worksheets, authoritarian interaction built on extrinsic rewards and punishments, extremely limited verbal participation, and reduced time for physical education, arts, science, and social studies. There was no play, no passion, and no purpose. There was an utter lack of joy. For an engaging and articulate explanation of this phenomenon click on this link to a youtube video by Ken Robinson titled "Schools kill creativity"
In an article in ASCD, Judy Willis wrote “Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too.” If learning is our goal, then we need to radically change the way we teach and the way we organized schools. We don’t need a flood of new reforms built around standards and assessment- we need a million drops of joy in our classrooms everyday. It will take all of us working together get those million drops. Whether you are a teacher, parent, principal, staff member, student, or part of the larger community, you can help bring joy to others on a daily basis:
- Join the Joyful Learning Network!
- Commit yourself to at least one act that supports joyful learning every day
- Share your passion for joyful learning with others
Jason Lustig Yamashiro
Co-Founder, Joyful Learning Network