And we're not talking about buying the new Tesla 3, using nuclear power, or even fracking.
We are in an energy crisis because we aren't valuing the potential of each child in school. School is too often seen as a drag, a place to wish the time away, a box to check off in life, or, for some, a place to avoid altogether. As a nation, we are obsessed with managing graduation rates, gamifying student performance on tests as a way to push for progress and accountability, and holding unrealistic expectations that each person must have the very same experience in school. In reality, we are all different, learn differently, and want different things for ourselves.
What a shame this is, especially for young children, just starting out in school. Kindergarteners have 13 years ahead of them, or alternatively, 14,000 hours, from the time they start kindergarten until they graduate from high school. When we put this in context of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours to achieve mastery something, we can ask, "What is it that children should be mastering in school?" Imagine how it feels to a child who isn't engaged, doesn't relate to his teacher or her classmates, or is uncomfortable in the classroom. This amount of time can feel like it is strrrreeettttchinnggggg out endlessly. No wonder school is often the subject of adolescent gripe sessions, which unfortunately, don't bring us any closer to a solution to this energy crisis.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi psychologist, researcher, and a founder of the field of positive psychology who currently teachers at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow." "The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what they are doing. We've all had this experience at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored." Um. I'd love an order of that, with a side of fries, please!
As adults, most of us are likely to know what this flow feels like. We are happy, content, hard to distract, and deeply engaged. Whether it's reading a great new book on raising ferns, writing a blog on donuts, building a Mini Cooper out of legos, or planning a political campaign, we are unstoppable because we're internally driven to complete the activity, trusting and following our own vision. Time flies by. And, probably, we're even having fun!
Why is it, then, that we seldom talk about flow when we talk about children in school? Imagine if the purpose of schools was to create as many instances of flow for children and sustain this experience over time, say...14,000 hours' worth of it? According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, "Indiana University’s 2009 'High School Survey of Student Engagement,' involving more than 40,000 high school students nationwide, nearly half reported being bored every day in school, with 17 percent saying they were bored in every class. Eighty-one percent of those who reported being bored said that they weren’t interested in the material, 42 percent thought it wasn’t relevant to life, and 35 percent said they didn’t have positive interactions with their teachers."
A positive teacher-student relationship is perhaps the strongest precondition necessary for flow. - David Shernoff, Northern Illinois University professor
So what can we do to solve this energy crisis? Dr. Susan Perry, author of Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity, shares concrete and doable things parents and teachers can do to increase flow in their children and classrooms. To learn more, see her article on teaching flow in Psychology Today. Together—parents, teachers, administrators, researchers, and others—we can approach this energy crisis and uncover the rich well of potential within each child.
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