Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Trouble With Passion Based Learning

It would seem that the concept of passion based learning (the other type of PBL) has found a place amongst the burgeoning lexicon we use to describe what happens in school these days. The emergence of the phrase has always left me feeling a little uncomfortable.

I get that we should be passionate as teachers. But basing our learning on the presence or pursuit of passion, feels somewhat vexing.

This post from Ainissa Ramirez is filled with provocations and worth a wander through to get some cogs whirring. But you might soon strike trouble, as I have done with what is shared

There are two ways to get a child passionate about something:

1) Find out what each child is innately passionate about.
2) Be an instructor that exudes passion for the topic, and infect your students with that excitement.

Only a few of us have benefited from the first option, but all of us can benefit from the second one. That is the power of passion.

Like I said, I also believe that exuding passion for learning as a teacher sets you apart. It is the difference between those who are just there, and those who are memorable. I am passionate about stories, I hope my students remember the tales we explored and those we crafted together. I am passionate about how technology can immerse us in new worlds, I hope my students remember those places we visited and those we built.

Can you remember those memorable teachers? We saw in them their spark, a glow that we bathed in and gravitated towards. A light that seemed to offer a surefooted certainty and steadfast platform for us to build on. Their unswerving passion draped over every word and action.

This is from an article I wrote about the purpose of education:

To work in education it helps to be passionate. I want my son to see the drive and determination in another person at some point in the next few years. I want him to feel that human to human inspiration that is so powerful. Education should be about giving young people inspiration and belief — these can come from the environment that surrounds them. But it will probably resonate more strongly from one passionate person.

But I didn’t become passionate just because someone else was, it wasn’t that easy. And that is my first concern with the beguiling two step process shared by Ramirez. Excitement is one thing, passion is quite different. Like the difference between empathy and engagement. The other issue is that we can simply find out what students are passionate about, like it is that simple. I think the opposite is true.

When we ask primary age students what they are passionate about, we are not asking something appropriate to their age.

Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.

Cal Newport wrote this back in 2012 in a piece about changing our view on the career advice of “follow your passion.” Assuming that every child will have something innately representative of a passion is a bit of a stretch. Especially when they are 8.

I am grateful to Kate Montgomery for sharing some of her own thinking on this and helping me discover the Cal Newport article. Kate explains her own point of view:

And what if you don’t know what your passion is? The idea that you should pursue your passions like you just know what they are is also not quite right, to me. I’ve never known what my passions were, in a professional or even personal sense, because I was regarding passion as synonymous with ease and lack-of-fear.

The emphasis and pressure to “have a passion” for kids is counter intuitive. Every child needs the space and time to discover who they are. If we are genuine then this timeline might not fit neatly into the planning cycle for a school term. In fact it is just as likely to reach further into their lives, far beyond the bells of school.

We should take the pressure off kids and offer them a breadth of experiences whilst they are with us in school. Seek out new ideas and perspectives to share with them. Encourage and support their interests. Surround children with passionate people, so they can bathe in those lights and they can be inspired by others. Perhaps then, they will have the best possible conditions to maybe figure it out for themselves.

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