This summer, ask your bored child: Was last school year too easy or too hard?

Summer vacation is now in full swing, but the new school year will soon be upon us, and the hard work of our students, teachers, and parents will begin anew.  Parents, of course, hope what is being offered in the classrooms will seem quite the exciting adventure for their children.

However, if after only a few days or few weeks back at school, a student is tuning out, it does not foreshadow success. Indeed, it sometimes seems that many children are already looking forward to the next summer of vacation before the first leaf has turned in the fall.

The reasons for academic problems can be many: social pressures, loneliness, undiagnosed learning disabilities, bullying, inappropriate academic placements—the list is as varied as the students we send off to school each year. Nonetheless, it seems likely that the main contributing factor is plain and simple boredom.

Please understand that I am not suggesting learning is boring. Far from it. Education is a dynamic process that should challenge and enlighten our students. However, what do we expect our children to do if the content material in their schools is neither challenging nor enlightening?

Most students are astute enough to know when they are being fed make-work curriculum, and they are more than clever enough to notice that the teacher is as uninspired by the rote material they are being compelled to teach as the young people in their classes. Students may dislike the hard work that comes with difficult content material; however, I can guarantee they hate boredom even more.

Do you ever wonder why some students “act up,” particularly in lower academic level classes? Perhaps it is sometimes less that they are troublesome and more that they need some stimulation to counteract the low quality of what passes for their educations.

If you are curious why more and more parents are homeschooling, you need only look to a gentleman I met a while back who home-schooled all four of his children. By the time they reached 15 years old, they had all “finished” high school and were beginning work on college level work for credit. He would be the first to admit that his offspring were not super-geniuses by any measure. He attributed their successes to trusting them to step up to the challenge of more difficult material and letting his children discover they were capable of far more than they ever imagined possible.

The vast majority of children and young people are capable of working at a far higher academic level than they are at present—the more advanced public school curriculum available in many other countries should be proof of that. However, if the basic lesson taught by our system of education (and sadly by some of their parents and not a few in our society) is that “good enough” is more than enough and hard work is for fools, it should not be a surprise that so many students poke along aimlessly and find their joy somewhere other than the classroom.

School should not be something that our young are forced to endure; it should be a place where they can count on being pushed to excel, learn about talents they never suspected were within them, and become confident young adults who are sure of their capabilities and know how to deal with the next task set before them.
If we fail to engage our students by challenging them, the chronic absenteeism that infects our public schools will never improve; 13 percent of all students and 18 percent of all high school students miss 15 days of school or more each academic year.  

There are many problems that our children must face when they are in school, but classroom boredom should definitely not be one of them, and I can guarantee that a sure cure for a great deal of absenteeism and problem behavior is to get children thinking and learning.  After all, kids always torment their babysitters.

I encourage all parents to ask their children right now if the material they learned during the past school year was too easy or too hard. The answer may surprise many, and perhaps today is the time to march up to your local school and insist that your child be pushed a bit harder now so that they have a better chance of success later in life.

What do you think?
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Andrew Wilk

Andrew Wilk

Andrew teaches both English and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, and during the 2014-15 academic year he was nominated for the Teaching Excellence Award at the college in recognition of his work in the classroom. In addition to teaching at both the secondary and college level, he worked for many years in the private sector, holding professional and administrative positions in advertising, journalism and healthcare. Andrew has published over 100 commentaries on topics ranging from politics to education, and he has also published a novel, “A Day at the Fair with Chili Boy.” He writes on his blog, Common Sense. He is the dad of two grown children, who attended public schools in Urbana.

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