“He really struggles with . . . “

No one expects athletes not to struggle.

No one expects athletes not to struggle.

How often do you hear this phrase applied to a pupil, as though it were a problem? It isn’t. Struggle is normal. Struggle is in fact necessary for learning. The more we grapple with difficult things, the more likely we are to remember them.

How did ‘struggle’ get such a bad name? Could it be that somewhere along the line we began to believe that learning should be effortless? That’s certainly the logical conclusion of naturalism, one of the defining progressive doctrines: the notion that learning happens naturally, like a flower unfurling, and all the teacher needs to do is stand back and watch the lovely results appear. Naturalism is closely linked to developmentalism: the idea that children should be allowed to progress ‘at their own pace’, as though there were some natural age for learning the inherently unnatural skills of reading and writing. E D Hirsch points out that developmentalism has led many to ‘repudiate as unnatural the significant effort that all learning requires, whether it is painful or joyful’ (The Schools We Need, p89-90).

The negative view of struggle also comes from the tendency to believe that ability is something we are born with, more than something we develop. Therefore if you are struggling, it just proves you’re incapable. The word frequently appears in statements of special educational needs, which all too often lead to less being expected of pupils. Then “He really struggles with . . .” is actually a euphemism for “We can’t really expect him to be able to . . .”

Struggle is vital to building character. Continuing to persevere when something is difficult builds fortitude, one of the four great human virtues identified by Aristotle. But if our pupils are supposed to go ‘at their own pace’, then it is wrong to make them work harder than they feel like working. We must simply allow them to remain slaves to their whims and emotions.

If struggle is avoided, if we design ‘schemes of learning which allow pupils to jump from one feel-good performance to the next’ (Wrong Book, p316), then they not only end up ignorant, they end up arrogant. They end up believing that everything should be served up to them on a plate, and if something is difficult, they are justified in giving up and blaming their teacher for failing to ‘make learning fun’.

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7 thoughts on ““He really struggles with . . . “

  1. I was told today that the ideal teaching shouldn’t involve teacher talk because it’s wrong and boring for teachers to stand at the front and impart knowledge. Children should only learn through hands-on activities. You can ‘instantly tell’ a bad teacher because they won’t have done much planning and you can tell that they haven’t done much planning because they will be talking at the front of the class rather than providing a plethora of activities for children, who are, apparently,. all kinaesthetic learners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love how the accumulated history of humanity and indeed living things is so easily dismissed by constructivists. Agree whole heartedly with the idea of struggle being part of being alive! As for you QT – really crazy – all of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Unfortunately, constructivists have appropriated the idea of struggle as manifested in the “struggle is good” mantra which we hear a lot of in the U.S. Under the constructivists’ “struggle is good” scenario, students are given math problems for which they have little or no prior knowledge of the procedures or problem solving techniques needed results in a struggle that isn’t beneficial. Students are assumed to now have motivation to learn what is needed in a “just in time” manner.

    I view a short amount of struggle as appropriate provided that explanation is provided shortly after. That way, even if students do not succeed in solving a problem, most are receptive to explanations that they might otherwise tune out.

    See: http://oilf.blogspot.com/2014/12/conversations-on-rifle-range-19-grants.html#sthash.OO4B5O3k.dpuf

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