Monday, January 11, 2010

A New Year's (Re) Solution

Peace and blessings,

As I look back on the various things I was involved in last year (e.g., academically, personally, and professionally), I've decided that there's one particular issue that at the moment I'm really concerned with addressing: Shifting the conception of education amongst American youth, particularly underrepresented youth. Given that (1) there's a great deal of truth to the saying "the youth are the future" (as well as the present, but that's another issue) and (2) an adequate education is an integral part of improving the quality of life for oneself and for others, how today's adolescents perceive and experience education can have significant implications for the future.

Before proceeding, two clarifications are necessary. First, by "quality of life" I'm not referring to material things (e.g., a better car, house, or high-paying job), but about learning about oneself, others, and the world in a way that opens the door to finding your passion in life, your avenue to leave a mark on this earth. Second, I'm not claiming that everyone must (1) have superb academic performance in K-12 and/or (2) go to college, because I know that grades do not define a person, and that college may not be for everyone. What I am claiming is that in many ways, the idea that it's not cool to be smart or to get good grades needs to be turned on its head, unless many of our youth are going to continue to "fall through the cracks" and waste their potential to lead, inspire, and create a better future.

Anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that during adolescence (roughly ages 13-19), three things generally become increasingly more important in their lives:

(1) Friendships and peer groups
(2) Describing themselves in terms of belief systems and worldviews
(3) Having a personal domain

(1) and (2) are pretty straightforward, and (3) pertains to the idea that compared to preadolescents (although there is some evidence that they too have a personal domain), adolescents tend to view more issues as falling within their own personal jurisdiction (i.e., it's their decision to make as opposed to their parents, or anyone else etc.).

I believe that in order to shift adolescents' general conception of education to where it's "cool to hold it down in school," each of these aspects of adolescents' lives need to play an important role. As for (1), adolescents' need to be encouraged to form study groups to get work done and study for tests, as well as to choose to associate with people who are going to better them as students. This doesn't mean that adolescents should only be friends with "nerds," but that adolescents are not being peer pressured into doing things that do not contribute to their growth as a student. For (2), we need to encourage adolescents to understand that education is about much more than a nice job, house, and car. Further, we need to continually let them know that grades or test performance do not define them; but if they develop a passion to learn for learning sake, they will do fine no matter what level of education they pursue. For (3), I think we need to validate adolescents' need for personal space, while at the same time helping them forge a personal connection to school and to what they learn.

By viewing our adolescents' as assets, validating their concerns, and walking beside them as they begin to solidify each of the three areas mentioned above, we can provide the proper encouragement adolescents need to fully take ownership of their education. Once this ownership is matched with a passion to make a meaningful contribution to this world, the possibilities are limitless....

What do you think are the major issues influence adolescents' conception of education? What do you think is/are the best solution(s)? Take care, God bless, and speekonit...


Susan M. Ebbers said...

Hi Justin. I share your concern. There are probably many factors that make youth gravitate away from education, but I would comment on interest theory. Interest is context specific--we are not interested in everything, but in one or two particular domains. Adolescents need to find their domain of interest, and educators need to help them do so. Research indicates that interest grows as self-efficacy grows. As interest and self-efficacy grow, so does knowledge and a sense of identity. Interest does not exist in a vacuum--it needs to be nourished. The psychological state of interest involves both emotion and cognition and it is looks much like curiosity (see Hidi & Ainley, 2006, or Silvia, 2008). So we need to trigger curiosity! Dewey and Piaget both spoke of the energizing influence of interest. Bottom line, lessons need to be interesting. The value of interest as a motivating and life-shaping factor is huge. Teachers need to learn how to make things interesting. This is esp. important for adolescents who are distracted by "life" and prone to drop out (Hidi, 2002). Several scientists think the human mind has an innate bent towards developing sustained individual interests...if only given the proper stimulus. If schools do their part, the mind will do its part, and all good.

I agree with is not about getting good grades or going to college. It is about identity issues. Krapp writes of this. See also Deci and Ryan.

Your work is so important. Keep it up!

Justin said...

Hello Susan,

Thanks for comment and for putting me on to work on interest. I'm not familiar with the work, but I am "interested" in it (no pun intended, lol).