The myth of Easy & Fun Education Reform

I really like the ideas of Dan Meyer.  In a recent blog post of his, he wanted some feedback on some ideas regarding education reform.  Please go read his post and subscribe to his blog (it is great stuff!).  The post in question discussed how he believes that in order for an education reform initiative to take flight it must be free, easy and fun.  To some extent I agree with him in that most teachers are not willing to do the difficult work of becoming a great teacher, but I felt compelled to reply because I don’t think we ought to be promoting the misconception that teaching or learning ought to always be fun an easy.  My response is below.

Dan, This is my first comment on your blog, but I have read with interest for quite some time. I am a science teacher, soon to be science education professor. The idea of how to improve teaching is constantly on my mind.

I find myself disagreeing greatly with your notion of free, easy and fun (mostly the easy and fun part, because what I propose as necessary is definitely free).

The reason I am so opposed to “easy and fun” is because encouraging real learning is not easy. If it were, everyone would be a great teacher. Instead, developing and maintaining high quality instruction abilities takes time (a LOT of time). I don’t think you would disagree.

Because of the inherent difficulty of real learning and teaching, they are not necessarily “fun” in the sense of entertaining. While effective teaching and deep learning are both worthwhile, and the rewards are enjoyable, the process is often fraught (sp?) with frustration and difficulty. I think about working out, while I enjoy the feeling of having worked out, and enjoy the benefits to my health, I would not call the actual workout “fun”. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Fun? No.

Of course this does not mean I believe learning has to be boring! I prefer the term engaging rather than fun. This could be semantics, but our words are what we mean and ought to be chosen with care. I worry if we send the message to teachers or students that learning should always be entertaining, we are setting them up to not engage in difficult, but worthwhile activities.

While the fun/engaging differences might be reconciled, I see no place that I can budge on the claim that reform ought to be easy. I think I see your point that in order for teachers to “get on board” the new stuff has to appear easy, but that just means that we need more dedication from our teachers. Or perhaps teachers who are dedicated to a different purpose.

Which brings me to the free thing I think we need to “reform” education. A change in philosophy & purpose. There is no cost associated (other than time) with changing our instructional purpose from skills to understanding or from memorization to application. What your 80% needs is not something that is free, easy and fun. Instead, they need to consider what their goals are for their students. Once the goals are articulated, they must consider how to best achieve their goals. If a teacher’s goals is to have students simply gain a skill or have 90% accuracy on a timed test….well, they need to either re-evaluate their goals, or leave education.

I know all teachers “say” they want students to deeply understand content and be able to apply that understanding to the real world. Yet, so few teachers actually teach in a way that would help students actually do that. A worksheet is not real world. I word find is not deep understanding. Aligning our practiced purpose with our articulated purpose needs to happen. We don’t need a tool to do that, other than perhaps a mirror.

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3 Responses to The myth of Easy & Fun Education Reform

  1. I think that the discussion between you and Dan is around the right ideas if we are talking about ‘teacher-level’ reform, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true about school-level reform. I’ll give you the best example:


    I had an old colleague of mine visit SLA today, and it was fascinating to me to view the school from the eyes of someone who was with me at a school that shared a basic pedagogical foundation w/ SLA… I was again struck by how some of the decisions we’ve made that were different from my last school have helped shape the place, but I was also struck by how many of the ideas really are made possible by the laptops.

    And they weren’t easy to figure out how to use, and they certainly aren’t free. But because we made that decision at the school-level, we were able to make it and (so far) sustain it.

    We have to look at what is possible from the teacher level, yes… because the school (and policy) level is going to be a tougher fight, but let’s not forget what is possible when it’s more than just a single teacher in their classroom trying to affect change.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Chris, I agree that having a school working toward a common goal can be a great asset! A 1:1 laptop initiative can be a great catalyst to bring teachers together in common purpose. Yet, I want to highlight something you said: “And [the laptops] weren’t easy to figure out how to use…”. I think this point provides further support for my point. I can give every kid in a school a laptop and it is possible that the teachers will continue to focus on rote memorization and skill building (ie: webquests, crosswords using google, or “online worksheets”). So the fundamental beliefs and goals of the teachers still matters (as i would guess you would agree). However, what the 1:1 initiative likely has done in many situations (and likely yours), is act as a catalyst for teachers to re-evaluate their teaching. One of the hardest things in education reform is getting teachers to stop their old practices (they are comfortable). By introducing laptops it becomes more difficult for them to maintain traditional practices, so they might as well work toward effective practices since they have to change anyway. As I said, for teaching to improve, we have to actually work toward the lofty goals we have for students (our practiced purpose much match our articulated purpose). Some tools might serve as a catalyst for us to align those two, but I believe the heart of the issue is really what teachers believe and what teachers do.

      Thanks for your comment, it has gotten me thinking! I would like to know your thoughts on the above paragraph. I feel like the ideas I am trying to articulate above may be a useful way to view education reform initiatives. Essentially, I am wondering to what extent the technology forces teachers to re-evaluate old practices and the re-evaluation is the root cause of reform. If the re-evaluation is the root cause, the next question is can we get teachers to re-evaluate without as much cost as a 1:1 initiative?


  2. I think you’re right… I used to think that tech could *never* be the tail that wags the dog, and I still think you need a strong pedagogical foundation or you will misuse or underuse the tech, but I now believe that if you do have the pedagogy, the tech can make you fly. And the tech can make it easier to show people what’s possible.

    And hey, if netbooks keep getting cheaper, that 1:1 cost is only going to get lower and lower.


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