Kathleen Vail, “Nurturing the Life of the Mind,” National School Board Journal (2001):
The idea that children must be entertained and feel good while they learn has been embraced by many well-meaning educators. In many classrooms, as a result, students are watching movies, working on multimedia presentations, surfing the Internet, putting on plays, and dissecting popular song lyrics. The idea is to motivate students, but the emphasis on enjoyment as a facile substitute for engagement creates a culture in which students are not likely to challenge themselves or stretch their abilities. After all, if students are not shown the intrinsic rewards that come from working hard to understand a concept, they won’t do it on their own.
The probable result? A life spent shying away from books, poetry, art, music, public policy discussions — anything that takes an effort to understand or appreciate and has no immediate or obvious payoff.
Project-based learning always has the potential to be based on fun rather than content, says former teacher and administrator Elaine McEwan, who wrote Angry Parents, Failing Schools: What’s Wrong with Public Schools and What You Can Do About It. She uses the example of a class of academically struggling elementary school students in Arizona that spent 37 hours — more than a school week — building a paper-mache dinosaur. The local newspaper even ran a photo of the students and their handiwork. “Those kids couldn’t read well, and they spent all that time messing with chicken wire and wheat paste,” says McEwan.