We pride ourselves on being an intellectual community. Everyone benefits when we are engaged and motivated in our learning: teachers are eager to teach students who are eager to learn, and students get more out of classes in which both they and their teacher are enthusiastic about learning. How students respond to occasions for voluntary learning, is an important measure of the intellectual energy of our community.
The second annual all-school read and the subsequent visit from featured author Naomi Shihab Nye was designed to be such an occasion, an enriching and engaging experience for the whole community. Unexpectedly, The Vanguard found students’ attitudes about the event disheartening.
Several students we interviewed said the all-school read discussions were boring and full of awkward silences. But when asked if they had read the material provided for the all-school read, most said they had not, claiming they were too busy with homework and other commitments to read the collection of poems and short stories designed to take only 20 to 30 minutes to complete. Some said that they didn’t have any incentive to participate because the all-school read was not graded.
It seems unlikely—even with sports, academics, and extracurricular activities— that students can’t manage to find 30 minutes ¬over two weeks. More likely, students just chose not to use time they weren’t spending on schoolwork or sports for the reading.
As a community whose core values include scholarship, how did we get to a place where students don’t feel motivated to learn unless they are graded? Those who truly embody scholarship actively seek out enriching experiences and ways to expand their minds instead of just applying themselves for a grade.
These responses indicate an attitude embedded in student culture—students demonstrated that they are not motivated to learn for the value of learning itself.
The faculty at the school seek to support students in becoming scholars. Teachers often say they want to help foster curiosity in students so that they pursue knowledge outside of the classroom as well as within, and one of the goals of the librarians who organized the all-school read is to instill a love of reading in students. With faculty and teachers who are committed to developing a rich learning environment, we as students need to reciprocate that commitment.
An enriching intellectual community benefits everyone at the school. So to build a community full of motivated, curious students, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to learn.