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Guest Post by: Lisa Cooley

Passion Solves Problems! First in a series

What is passion? Why does it deserve a place in our classrooms?

The root of the word passion is not love or lust or overwhelming emotion. It is suffering. It is the thing that you love and need to do so much that you are willing to go through anything to learn it. (Kind of like me and this thing I have about changing education.)

Maybe it’s stretching the point to think that five-year-olds entering Kindergarten have passions, but for my money, they are the most passionate people I know! For five years they have been following their passions, and adults have marveled at how cute they are while doing it.

Then they enter school.

This series examines the problems that can be solved by making students’ passions the first priority in the classroom, the school, the district.

What does it mean to make passion the first priority?

Here’s the first problem on my list.

1. Most adults don’t understand what it means to respect children.

Kids need to understand from their very first day of school that who they are, what is inside them, what they value about themselves, is held to be important by grownups–so school really is a place for them.

This scenario comes from the book, The Passion-Driven Classroom, by Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold (now available on Kindle!)

Houston is passionate about trucks, cars, and super heroes, struggles a bit with reading, and has an average I.Q. Interestingly, he barely meets minimum requirements for frst grade. He comes to school and plays the game. He sits through calendar time getting the big idea that it’s about the days of the week, counting and patterns, yet the truth is he really doesn’t care. He thinks, “What’s the big deal? It’s Wednesday. I can look at the calendar myself. The teacher-lady will tell me what day it is anyway.” He goes through the motions of “sounding-out” the short vowels and reading the guided book of the week, Dan Can Fan his Tan Can. He memorizes the code, yet scores in the lower middle stanine on his developmental assessment. Next, the students are directed to follow the usual writing routine: Write your name frst, then copy and respond to the writing prompt of the day. Today’s prompt reads, “The best thing ever about school is…” Houston gets excited and draws a picture of a car. He thinks it’s the best writing work he’s completed so far this year. He thinks, “Finally, something I’m interested in and know a lot about!” Proud of his work, he hopes to publish it in his classroom library. He writes his rendition of the prompt at the top, “The frst car I ever made.” remembering that he was supposed to write his name frst, he draws an arrow from his name to the beginning of his writing. He gets his paper back, a couple days later with the directions to do it over, this time, following the directions. Houston is confused. He did the best diagram with the best writing ever, and he didn’t do it right. And this happens again and again, day after day, until his passion for learning is lost

As far back as elementary school, a disregard of who kids are enters and takes hold of them.

But kids don’t generally take this rejection and turn it outward, where it belongs. They turn it inward, and it becomes part of them. They feel separate and apart; they try to fit in better, but kids can’t be other than who they are. Who can?

We need to respect kidsnot for who we want them to be, or who they are as long as they follow our rules. To get respect, you have to give respect.

In this area, we as adults, the people in control, need to be very self-critical, all the time. The needs and desires of kids are so completely neglected that I give myself this thought experiment: what would happen if the feelings of kids were to beelevated above adults?

Who has the more uncorrupted mind? Who is this school for, anyway?

To find the passions of children is to demonstrate to them them that, in the words of Angela Maiers, they matter. And they matter not only to other kids, but those people in charge: adults.

I currently have four more items on my list of problems that the passion-driven classroom would solve. Please add yours!

Without passion, any kind of school change is just the same ol’ same ol’.

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