An Interest Not Sparked: Igniting Student Potential
Recently, I was tutoring a local high school student who was quick to express his distaste for all things social studies. Try as I might, I could not seem to scrounge up a historical event, geographic skill, economic principle, or political concept that he considered compelling. Nearly disheartened, I happened to glance at his wrist and notice a bracelet that paid homage to Bob Marley. Someone that claimed to loathe the study of the past was honoring a historical person.
I’d found my way in.
We spent the rest of our session discussing his passion and interest in Bob Marley, the famous musician. We researched more about Marley’s religion, grabbed an atlas to better visualize the relative location of Jamaica, pondered the ultimate worth of the Marley estate, and assessed his involvement in Jamaican politics. I could barely restrain myself from pointing out that this student was becoming passionate about social studies, not just Bob Marley. We used history to better cognize the man, we used geography to better understand his world, we used economics to gauge his financial success, and we used an awareness of governments to better comprehend the political climate in which Bob Marley lived. A shrewd smirk grew on the student’s face as he said, “But we can’t study Bob Marley in school!”
This is, I believe, a worthy parable for explaining the cognitive dissonance that is the social studies: Most people claim of dreading the content areas during schooling, yet it is historical fiction and biographies that often top the best seller lists, and the entertainment industry often bases programming around historical events or geographic phenomena, e.g., Mad Men or Titanic. We don’t want to study those we’re told to appreciate or dates we’re forced to memorize. We want to explore people who inspire us and discover events that changed and affected us.
The way the social studies (and many other subjects for that matter) are commonly taught can be dismissive of the interests of the learner. Kids are often unaware that they’re interested in the social studies, unaware that the things they’re passionate about involve the social studies. When those interests are tapped, however, the potential of learners is awe-inspiring.
Take, for example, the power and tremendous courage of middle school students investigating and tackling the increase of violence and bullying in their neighborhood and school.
Or, the ability of a 12-year-old Civil War aficionado to not only become an expert on a historical topic, but to comprehend the gravity of human destruction and the importance of historic preservation.
Former president James A. Garfield once said “I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.” His astute appreciation for potential is one we must all develop and nurture, for an interest not sparked might be a revolutionary not stirred, a virtuoso not inspired, or a prodigy not fostered.
Educators: How do you ignite the potential in your students? We want to hear from you! Please leave your comments below.
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