Grand Rapids, like many other cities, has it’s share of unhappy teenagers — teenagers who hate school, homework, their teachers, bullies, cliques, and more. And our teens are not alone in feeling unmotivated by school — nationwide, 40% of teens feel the same way. Other statistics testify to the problems teens are facing as they try to learn how to make their way in this big world of ours.
Families look for alternative schools or private schools, but they can’t always afford the tuition. Even if they can, these schools don’t always get to the root of the problem.
We can all agree that education is important. So why are some teens having problems? If we look under the surface, we can see that traditional high school and middle school classrooms aren’t connecting to these teens for two main reasons.
The First Reason: Learning Styles
There is a huge diversity of learning styles among teens! The traditional classroom structure that requires sitting still, quietly reading, listening, memorizing, and writing is simply not a fit for the majority of learners.
Many teens need to move around more — they need hands-on learning with concrete experiences.
Other teens need to be able to talk things out to learn them. While some teens need to hear things in lecture, others need a musical connection, and still others need to see content or map it out before they can truly interact with it.
With a full day of school, after-school activities, and homework, these teens don’t have the time to learn about how they learn best and to translate the day’s learning into their own learning style. Instead, they disconnect, feeling bored and unmotivated in class.
The Second Reason: Meaning
Teens, and all humans, need meaningful context to truly learn, while school too often provides disassociated facts. Consider the words of John Taylor Gatto as he accepted a Teacher of the Year award for the State of New York:
The first lesson I teach is confusion. Everything I teach is out of context. I teach the un-relating of everything. I teach disconnections. I teach too much: the orbiting of planets, the law of large numbers, slavery, adjectives, architectural drawing, dance, gymnasium, choral singing, assemblies, surprise guests, fire drills, computer languages, parents’ nights, staff-development days, pull-out programs, guidance with strangers my students may never see again, standardized tests, age-segregation unlike anything seen in the outside world….What do any of these things have to do with each other?
Meaning, not disconnected facts, is what sane human beings seek.
When a teen experiences something meaningful to his or her own life, motivation and real learning spring forth. They not only retain what they’ve learned — they also can apply it in appropriate situations, and they can adapt it and build upon it as new situations arise.
As a community, we can work to intentionally help our teens re-engage with their learning and their lives. How? Our next blog post will offer 5 ways to help our teens love learning again. Or you can contact Open Doors and ask us directly — we’d be happy to help.
Note: Welcome to our new series, “Your Life — Your Learning!” This is our first post in the series.
With support from the Wege Foundation, Open Doors will explore what learning is and how it works (and doesn’t work) for the teens in the Greater Grand Rapids community. Our hope is that more local teens and families will find tools for claiming their own learning on their own terms, whether they stay in school or choose to leave for an option like Open Doors.