So much of our current education system is built around control. Students are conditioned to act in a certain way from kindergarten on up. Prizes are given to students who are quiet and sit still, while students who have energy are given stern reminders that “we use our classroom voices” while we are working. So much of this control is built on a false premise that children do not want to learn. While I could create post after post about how the traditional classroom actually squashes a child’s desire to learn, I’d like to instead focus on dispelling the myth that children are not interested in learning. And I’d like to do it in the most unconventional way possible. Here goes:
My kids love Minecraft. If you haven’t seen this game, it’s available for XBox, PCs, Macs and tablets. In a lot of ways, I would call Minecraft digital legos. Basically, you make things, you blow things up, you fight some zombies and run around in your virtual world. It is not super exciting to me, but my sons are addicted (much like legos). Because they love Minecraft SO MUCH, they do research on it. They watch YouTube videos. They can tell you what version of Minecraft is available on what platform. They have learned the language that other players use, they have memorized hundreds of Minecraft facts and they have essentially become experts on the game. We are on vacation this week and my ten year old son made an instant friend when another boy (probably about 13) overheard him listing all of the features of the new Minecraft 2.0. He was listing them to me and my eyes were beginning to glaze over, so I was very happy when this other boy struck up a conversation with him, eager to show off his expert knowledge of Minecraft. This conversation was not unlike those that I have with colleagues in my field. They were excited, they were passionate and they were eager to compare notes and experiences.
I think you know where this is going. Yes, I’m making the argument that learning everything they can about Minecraft is just as valuable as anything they are working on in a more traditional way. These boys are using their brains. Completely independent of any sort of educational institution, they have found something that they are passionate about and they have worked tirelessly to become experts on that topic. We do this same thing as adults. We find a field that we are interested in, and then we read books and take classes in an effort to acquire as much knowledge as possible about that field. Most of us are not satisfied by being mediocre at our jobs – we want to be great. I would go so far as to say this is human nature – this is how we are wired. We want to think, learn and be active members of our society. Yes, there are exceptions to this, and I’m sure there are some kids out there who really just want to sit in front of the tv all day, but I don’t think there are many.
I have faith that my children will grow from obsessing over Minecraft to obsessing over something that is more relevant to their adult lives. Every once in a while, I try to plant a seed and see what happens (Scuba Diving is a seed that has begun to sprout for one of my boys), but I am content to watch them research, discover and engage in lengthly debates about a topic that they are truly passionate about. Passion and drive are qualities that help adults to succeed, and these are qualities that I want to encourage in my children in any way possible. Even if it means listening patiently while my son lists every single little feature of a video game that I don’t understand and have never actually played.