Drills and Drama

For parents and teachers, there is an inconvenient truth about children:

They don't come with a USB port.

Try as we might, we always get an error message when we attempt to upload information onto their hard drives. ("Here is a slice of pure, clean knowledge.  Please file it somewhere neatly in your brain.") They are what has been termed human and tend to reject all formalized learning categorically.  This fact has created perhaps the single most debated question in all the Educational World (an unwieldy and corpulent world), which is this:

"How do we get kids to love and accept what we're trying to teach them?"


"How do we get kids to actually be diligent and attentive?"

Two basic schools of thought exist.  The first says the solution is to drill, baby, drill.  This is an old and traditional method with exclusive emphasis on repetition, chants, drills, routines, discipline, and consequences.  The second school of thought says the solution is to show the students a real good time.  Are they interested in horses?  Let them skip math class and ride one!  Or more reasonably, a math teacher's paramount role is to make math fun.

Both are wrong by themselves.  Both are right (except for the part about skipping math class) when combined.

As we teach our children both in the classroom and at home, our goal should be a heady combination of both rigor and love.  Put a different way, students of all levels need a dynamic combination of distasteful drills and rousing drama -- that is, the dramatic adventure inherent in learning.  Without the first, there is no structure or standard for knowledge, and so a child never receives meaningful content.  Without the second, the masses of rich content the child does receive are packaged in bitterness and resentment: there is no love of learning.

In the classroom, ACA teachers regularly ask themselves: "Given the importance of both rigor and adventure (or love), what should I emphasize in this particular subject given what I know of this particular set of students?"  We should ask the same question as parents.  The specific answer is always different, ever developing, but it always seeks the ideal marriage of discipline and love.