The Dehumanizing of Learning

I recently watched an episode of Morning Joe on MSNBC. Recent reports show a downward spiral in boys education and consequential societal effects. It was titled, “Data shows young boys are struggling in school.”

This is distressing for a whole range of reasons. It shows a dramatic difference between boys and girls. This should not be viewed as a, “which gender is smarter” kind of debate. This would be no different from racial comparisons. Both are morally wrong and misleading. There is I would offer, a cultural issue that is rapidly becoming a widening divide.

There are a myriad of reasons I’m sure, but I would like to focus on two. They both stem from what I see as the dehumanizing of child learning. It happens in school, sports and many other environments. In our desire to do more for them, we have succeeded in taking more away from them. There is a natural evolution of learning for children that dates back to our origins. It is also prevalent in many other species as well

We have made learning environments serious places. There used to be a better mix of play and formal learning. The play part is disappearing fast. With this development comes a loss of social interaction, free time to explore who they are and greater control of almost every aspect of their lives. Play and fun are critical for all children, but when missing for boys, they lose their appetite for anything formal. The desire for “their” time, if taken away, has detrimental effects. Just ask any elementary teacher how making the boys stay inside for recess due to behavioural issues, works out for them. Taking away their free time to let loose just exacerbates the problem. If allowed to burn off energy, they come back better prepared to sit, listen and fall in-line. This is not strictly a gender issue but is more prevalent with boys, especially at young ages.

Learning should also be fun and there is no reason at all why it couldn’t be. Making learning rigid and structured in both Education and athletics, removes all fun, freedom to express & explore and worst of all makes the experience rote. Surely we can combine learning and fun in ways that suit our objectives for them and their needs as well? As a child growing up in the 60’s, I remember a lot of free time, fun with my friends, ***recess*** and fun sport activities. Throwing our sticks into the middle of the rink to divide up the teams and play with no referee seems like a distant memory now. There is very little time left for themselves. We cannot fix things by making more structure and filling their time.

Let them be kids! They will give us some of their time in exchange.


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Bill Howe

Bill Howe

I am a researcher in the field of Child Learning (WC Howe Institute of Learning).