Sitting at my desk in the back of the classroom, it’s fairly easy for me to tell which kids are engaging in the content on their laptops, and which are not. However, for the occasional walk-through by an administrator, as long as the kids faces are pointed toward the screen and they’re quiet (or talking in low tones without laughter or enjoyment) then they’re probably engaged in the work. If they look busy (and focused). However, if that same administrator saw the essays that come back at the end of a week long research period, they would understand that “business” does not equal work any more than it equals learning.
Many students have learned that a standard being met, which is the over-riding approach to education now, means that a bare minimum must be achieved. Kids often learn (vaguely) what is required of them, without grasping the truth of the material, and are able to fairly consistently churn out an appropriate level of work. We may research the Holocaust not as a historical event, but as a literary one. How did the Holocaust change the literature and art that came after? How was society effected by the knowledge of what the Nazi’s did? Pretty big questions, right? Although these are the essential questions that the content in my class attempts to answer, they are not actually answered. Instead I often get an expository history lesson or a book report. Even my students that rigorously research the topics, and follow the discussions in class closely, still hand me a stock piece of writing with little imagination or creativity in it.
This is what comes of an education system that’s being taken over by businesspeople and politicians, kids that perform at a very mediocre level, and expect to be rewarded for it. If the only motivation a student has to perform higher than “expectations” is ribbon or possibly even nothing. Put another way, we are raising students to be motivated extrinsically, simply wanting to meet the “proficient” standard so they can get on with their day. We are teaching them that learning is not its own reward.