Have you ever tried to listen someone talk about a topic in which you are completely uninterested? At best, you get through it without yawning, and hope that they don’t ask any questions. If they do, you are in trouble because more than likely you can’t remember anything they’ve said, even though the words left their mouth minutes or even seconds before.
Interest is a vital ingredient to remembering/learning. A few weeks ago, Time Magazine ran a cover story called The Case Against Summer Vacation. The author argued that summer vacation is an antiquated relic of our agrarian past, in which children were needed to work the family farms from spring until fall. He claimed that although we tend to romanticize it, summer is increasingly a time of boredom and ‘summer brain drain’. This phenomenon causes children to forget up to 30% of what they learned in school the previous year, particularly in….you guessed it, math. The solution, of course, is to do away with summer vacation altogether! If kids are always in school, they’ll never have the chance to forget anything, right?
Ok, remember the first paragraph? (Or weren’t you interested?) Maybe, just maybe, the reason kids are experiencing all this summer brain drain is that they never learned it in the first place. An easy way to check this theory is to ask any child about a book or movie that they love and they will tell you about it in detail and at length, even if they haven’t seen it or read it for months. Or they love it and watch or read it over and over so that they can quote it back to you word for word. When was the last time anyone read, say, a history textbook more than once?
Here’s a story my Mom told me. When I was in high school, she helped out in the Special Ed department there. During study hall periods, the kids in Special Ed would come to her room and she and another woman would help them with homework or reading or whatever. One day one of the boys, who’d been labelled as a remedial learner, unable to comprehend anything but the most basic texts, was sitting in the study room at a table with another boy. While my Mom listened, he talked to his friend about his favorite band, listing the names of all of their albums, what year they were released, who was the lead singer, the names of all the band members, their instruments, and on and on and on. Finally my Mom looked at him and said, “So if you were as interested in any of the subjects here at school as you are in that band, you wouldn’t have any trouble learning, would you?” He smiled. She was right.
Summer Brain Drain is a myth. It just means the kids aren’t interested, but they know they have to retain the information just long enough to pass the test and please the powers that be. And then it is gone. Wouldn’t it be better to find out what kids are interested in? To listen a bit more and talk a lot less? To give them credit to make their own way, supporting them when they ask? (and they will, if they have a goal of their own making).
Everyone thought Albert Einstein couldn’t learn. Turns out he just wasn’t interested in what they were teaching.
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. “ ~Albert Einstein