One of the benefits of living in Nashville is that we are blessed to have a number of world-class educators who don’t just educate in the classroom but also share their talents with the community at large. Some, like Hunter’s Lane High School Principal Dr. Kessler, write books. Others, like Maplewood High School Assistant Principal Dr. Jackson, give TED Talks. Maplewood Principal Dr. Woodard writes a blog, and a recent post really struck a chord with me. In it, he talks about student boredom, which leads to dropping out. Obviously combatting drop outs rates is a priority, but I also think the subject of boredom is one that we don’t address nearly enough.
Boredom in teenagers is something that has been around as long as there have been teenagers. How many of us remember looking at our moms during the summer and declaring, “I’m bored,” and then getting the answer, “Well, find something to do, or I’ll find something for you”? The implied threat being that it wouldn’t be something you would enjoy. Kids today are still making that declaration, but the difference is we no longer challenge them to find something to do. Instead, we leap to fill the void, thus robbing them of ever confronting boredom and developing the skills to deal with it.
We hear over and over about making kids college and career ready and the need for more rigorous study, as if that will translate into being life ready. Children are told over and over that they are destined for greatness and that they will live a life filled with constant stimuli, but how many of us live lives that reflect that narrative? The truth is that life, for the most part, is filled with mundanity, interrupted by periods of greatness and tragedy. Invariably, when people’s lives don’t live up to the expectations set during childhood, stress, anxiety, substance abuse, and instability creep in.
Add to these unrealistic expectations the ready availability of technology and what you see is a future full of citizens that are completely incapable of handling even a moment of boredom. Whenever a child is forced to do nothing for even a minute it is common to see them reaching for their phones to get a jolt of stimuli. Where is the time to let ideas form and for creativity to develop? If you’ve ever been around a group of 10 to 12 year olds you can attest that at that age we start to see who they are going to be as adults. In some ways, that exciting but if the signs of being ill equipped for adulthood are already showing, it should be eye-opening.
The majority of us get up everyday, go to work at jobs that hopefully give us a modicum of satisfaction, raise our families, enjoy our friends, and try to find joy in the simple things in life. Personally, I think that’s worth celebrating. It doesn’t mean that we are settling; it just means we are accepting life on its terms and enjoying all that it has to offer. In order to appreciate our lives for what they are, we need to have a little practice navigating the periods of boredom. How are children to do such a thing if adults are constantly snapping to attention every time feelings of discomfort are voiced?
Bill Moyers once said, “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” There is a lot of truth in those words, and we really need to ask ourselves if we are equipping our children with this creativity. If a school isn’t the “right fit,” we find a new school for our kids. If a teacher is perceived as not one of the “brightest and best,” we find a new teacher for our child. If a child voices boredom, we find a class or a camp to combat it. What happens to that child when they get out in the “real” world and are faced with similar challenges? How do we expect them to ever develop the skills to truly live life if we are demonstrating that life is a never-ending void to be filled?
Studies have shown that millennials are currently the most stressed generation, and I can’t help but believe it has to with the setting of unrealistic expectations and an overemphasis on the rigorous. Children are not given the opportunity to create paths out of boredom for themselves. There is so much emphasis placed on achievement as a child, and those unrealistic expectations carry over into adulthood. An expectation of greatness is instilled that doesn’t reflect the life that most of us will live. I’m not arguing against striving for greatness, but I am arguing for the recognition of the joy in day-to-day living and providing the tools to adjust to and thrive during periods of mundanity. Like in all things, a balance needs to be struck.
I am a runner. I run four to five times a week, five to six miles a day. Many days, that run is extremely boring. I often run the same route at the same speed. It would be very easy to just chalk it up as boring and pack it up. However, if I did that, I would never reap the health benefits, nor would I experience the sense of satisfaction that comes with the completion of running five miles. Play it out further, and I wouldn’t be able to compete in the races that give me a shot at glory. It’s only by embracing the boredom and learning to creatively harness it that I am able to experience the joy that comes with the daily run.
So it is with children and education. It is essential that we don’t just come up with ways to stave off boredom for children, but that we guide them on how to live in those moments. We need to help them learn to use those times to employ creativity to break on through to the next high point. Children need to have time to breathe and apply the fruits of rigorous lesson plans. It’s one of the reason’s why the teaching of art, music, and literature are so important.
What is the purpose of reading at an advanced level if you don’t have time to contemplate the words being written? Art and music give us appreciation of the depth that life has to offer and a chance to reflect on who we are as people. Professional event planners identify three distinct stages of an event: the planning, the execution, and the reflection. The most neglected phase is often reflection; I think it’s safe to say that applies to life as a whole.
We have to be wary that we are creating a society where not only does the news cycle have to be filled 24/7, but so do our very lives. I can’t help but shudder to think of a world that is so focused on rigorous demands that it fails to recognize the honor in doing quality work, raising a family, and being a good citizen. We used to call those blue collar values, and the foundation of this country was built on them. It’s important to have high expectations, but it’s also important to be good stewards. Schools, teachers, and parents have long served as guides on that journey and that needs to be recognized along with achievement.
I’m very grateful that Nashville’s career educators are willing to offer their insight inside and outside of the classroom and I encourage everyone to take advantage of their unique gifts. They are testimony to the idea that being a teacher is more than a job, it’s a calling. I urge everyone to partake in these opportunities to expand our horizons. As John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life. Education is life.”