What’s love of learning got to do with it?

It’s great if children “love learning,” but it’s not a goal, writes Mark Bauerlein on Brainstorm. In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for parents to instill a love of learning — and to push “hard work and discipline” and achievement in math and science. Not all kids are going to love it.

How many conscientious, education-conscious parents who limit TV time and monitor homework end up with children who declare, “I hate math!”? Furthermore, if the “love of learning” message is explicit, young children may extend it into a new and damaging corollary: “If I don’t like it, it isn’t worth learning.” (I’ve heard this termed the “Sesame Street effect.”) That is, an absence of love turns into a justification for blowing off homework.

In addition to excess sentimentality, “love of learning” is too abstract, Bauerlein argues.

. . . children don’t love learning per se. They love history and stories and cell biology. They want to know about what happened at Little Round Top, or to find out how Odysseus escapes from Polyphemus, or observe a cell divide. In fact, the same student might love to collect and classify tree leaves and hate to read a poem. . . .  In emphasizing love of learning, the process of education, we under-appreciate the specific content that inspires the feeling. We should, instead, urge parents to instill a love of numbers and words and ideas and natural things . . .

Parents should tell children that learning is important, not necessarily lovable, Bauerlein concludes.

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