"We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinion, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins."
-- George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (Act I)
I just read Rosa Say's latest post on Talking Story, "Learning Needs a Cool Factor." Boy, did she nail it. Rosa observed from interacting with her kids' friends (college-aged), it's apparent that learning is not percieved as a cool thing. And I agree with Rosa that we've got to help kids find the Cool Factor in learning.
I've seen the same dynamic with my son and his friends. He wants to keep secrets about most of the character-building things he does. He's active in Scouting, and takes Tae Kwon Do - but doesn't want his friends at school or around the neighborhood to know. At 13, he was invited to take the SAT early because he showed academic promise. He participates in community service projects. And he doesn't want other kids to know about any of this because some of them make fun of him when they find out. Not all of his friends would make fun of him, of course, but what 13 year old wants to take the chance to find out which ones are which?
I'm very proud of my son, and I'm sad that he can't show pride in the good things he does because of the reactions of some of his friends. I'm sure Rosa and I aren't the only parents that see this sort of dynamic. No matter what support we try to provide at home, the pressure to "fit in" out in the real world can be hard to overcome. Unless you're excellent in a team sport, it can seem like it's not OK to stand out.
When I was growing up, the background message was: "Reading Is Fundamental," "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," Bookmobiles, and even those Schoolhouse Rock cartoons. Where's that learning drumbeat now?
Maybe this is a generational thing. Maybe it's a U.S. thing. But how are we raising a generation that places so little value on learning? Will they change their attitudes as they get older?
Maybe we're so caught up in honoring diversity that we've lost sight of honoring excellence. I hope not - that wouldn't bode well for the "knowledge-based economy."
On the bright side, "corporate America" is doing some things that will help.
- Intel sponsors tons of camps, scholarships, competitions, science fairs and other programs to encourage kids to do more in science (in particular, they promote a lot of "Girls in Science" programs)
- Starbucks' promotion of "Akeela and the Bee" cast some positive attention on spelling prowess
But I don't think this is enough to hit the mainstream and make learning cool. What do you think? Dare I hope for a tipping point to make learning a cool thing for our youth?
Join in the discussion - here, or in the comments over at Rosa's place.
- Rosa started all of this with a Lifehack.org post on "An Environment for Learning"