What Do The Kids Want To Learn?

Today, during a break in our recent barrage of standardized tests, I thought it might be interesting (and healthy) to allow my class to depart briefly from the official standards and benchmarks that so thoroughly define what we do each day.  So I asked my students, “If you could spend time in class trying to find the answer to any question you can imagine, what question would you want to research?”

I got nothing more than a collection of funny looks from my students, so I decided to give them an example.  Trying to say something none of the kids would be likely to choose, I explained how I personally know almost nothing about different types of trees.  My question to research could therefore be something like: What are some common types of trees in our area, and how can you tell them apart?

After that example, a few timid hands popped up, and I eagerly awaited their questions.  What would they say?  What types of things would be THE QUESTION that interested each of them most in life?  And they began…

“Does God exist?”

“Who were the first humans?”

“What’s heaven like?”

“Is there life in another spot in the universe?”

“Could humans ever teleport themselves?”

“What happens when you die?”

“How could heaven go on and on if more and more people keep dying and going there?”

“What was the world like thousands of years ago?”

“What’s the Bermuda Triangle?”

“What does God look like?”

Whoa.  I hadn’t expected that.  Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t expect it.  In a strange way, listening to many of their questions made the standards and outcomes we all have to follow seem pretty insignificant.  (My trees example suddenly sounded pretty foolish as well.)  It struck me that the types of questions they wanted to learn about were right in line with the “Big Ideas” Montessori theory believes that education should begin with.

Of course, most of the questions the kids posed are ones that public school teachers nowadays feel compelled to dodge as much as possible, and in fact, I didn’t make any effort to answer them today.  The more I think about this, though, the more I realize that when we as public schools refuse to tackle the significant questions of life that our students care deeply about, we in some ways exacerbate the “schooliness” I wrote about two posts ago

As a result, school becomes the place where you learn about everything except what you were wondering about.

Or, more bluntly: School becomes the place where you learn about everything except what really matters.

10 thoughts on “What Do The Kids Want To Learn?

  1. What a beautiful post. Really amazing.

    I would have never guessed so many deep questions, so fast. I doubt my public school classes when I was a kid would have done anything but sat and stared…but now I’m wondering…

  2. How true is this! Great post. I’m an elementary counselor and former homeschooler (where I got to answer those kind of questions everyday!)

    Here via COE – my Flat Stanley post was included also.

  3. I once read an article in the English Journal about kiddie question research papers, where high school English students researched things like “why is the sky blue?” and “what are boogers made of?” and presented their research in the form of kids’ books.

    I think the questions your kids came up with would make excellent writing projects at the high school level!

    And your assessment of what school becomes rings true…but isn’t there SOMETHING we can do?

  4. I love to get kids to give input on topics for me to teach. When I taught the same students for 4 years in a row, at the end of every school year, I would have them write down topics they wanted to learn the next year and then I would plan lessons around those topics. They loved it and really were engaged in learning because it was topics they wanted to know about.

  5. Isn’t that amazing? For children who are so innocent to come up with such profound and meaningful questions? I’m impressed and I agree, a school teacher like yourself would have probably created a lot more fun and purpose when I was back at school

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s