The Joy of Youth Engagement

This month’s Educational Leadership magazine really impresses me. The first article, entitled “Joy in School,” is one of the bravest I have ever read, if only because the author boldly supposes that schools and teachers can “bring some joy into children’s formal education.” Now, that isn’t as strong of a statement as I want to see, particularly because it supposes that “some” joy is better than none. More importantly though, the author proposes to answer John Dewey’s essential dilemma of schooling today:

“What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win the ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul?” Experience and Education. (1939) p 49.

With tepidity built into his responses, the author proposes mixing “pleasure in learning,” choice, creation, student exhibitions, tinkering, student-friendly environments, outside time, reading “good books,” hands-on learning, differentiated assessment, and “fun” in order to bring joy into schools. These are simple and generally easy-to-do tasks that should appeal to a lot of educators, if for no other reason than that they don’t rock the boat that much.

The real challenge of schooling today is that in its current inception – that is, as a compulsory, standardized and homogeneous environment with mandated control and outcomes – it cannot be joyful nor engaging. Instead, it actively works against joyfulness and engagement. The dilemma is that what needs to be accomplished is the complete radicalization of schooling today, nothing less than the complete abandonment of the structures of schooling.

However, I am a moderate, and I understand that compromises must be made. My work within the structures of traditional public schools is premised on the notion that schools – as they exist – can be made more engaging, less oppressive, and thus, more successful.

That much said, I would like to explore the “joy” of youth engagement. You know that look, that sensation, that ideal expressed by young people and reflected in adults who work with them when those young people are truly engaged, and the joyfulness of it is apparent, whether in their actions, their demeanor or their attitudes. I am not sure how to begin that study though, or how to make meaning of it. thoughts?

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