Thursday, September 21, 2017

Motivation and Education

From an essay by Amanda Ripley on education in the Middle East, but with worldwide applicability:
Motivation is the dark matter of education. It’s everywhere but impossible to see. Motivation helps explain why some countries get impressive education results despite child poverty and lackluster teaching, while others get mediocre results despite universal health care and free iPads. When kids believe in school, as any teacher will tell you, everything gets easier. So it’s crucial to understand the motivation to learn and how it works in the lives of real boys and girls. Because the slow slipping away of boys’ interest in education represents a profound failure of schools and society. And the implications are universally terrible. All over the world, poorly educated men are more likely to be unemployed, to have physical- and mental-health problems, to commit acts of violence against their families, and to go to prison. They are less likely to marry but quite likely to father children.
This grabbed me hard, because I view my inability to get my sons to care about school as the biggest failure of my adult life.


David said...

One interesting aspect of the article you cite is how it undercuts simple explanations one might be tempted to give of this problem. The problem seems to range across societies with strong economies and weak ones, those that guarantee jobs for adult males (as many oil states do) and those that don't, disordered states and peaceful ones, religiously conservative and not so conservative, schools with anti-bullying programs and schools without them, etc., etc. It's also interesting that, privately, several girls admitted that, while they work harder than the boys, they don't actually work all that hard, spend a lot of time texting while they're supposed to be doing homework, and so forth. One striking phenomenon was that the girls tend to report more positive relationships with their teachers than the boys--but nothing decisive or consistent.

Thinking about this, it occurs to me that boys seem to be doing badly in a system that was in fact designed by males. Institutions, indoor work, discipline, work involving mental challenges rather than physical ones, bureaucratic control, and on and on--they are all the products of male-dominated societies. Teachers may like girl students because girls are or seem, on average, more docile--but it's worth remembering that men created the system that wanted docility in the first place. Men seem to have designed a system in which many of their own gender do poorly (though many still do quite well). I wonder if there's some factor involving what happens when a minority of successful males design a system that all males then are put through. I wouldn't go so far as to say the successful nerds designed a system to put down the jocks--I think it's more subtle than that--but I think the broader problem may be important. Or not.

It also strikes me that each student has their own story, that it's these many, many stories that go to make up the aggregate figures, and that, arguably, our social sciences aren't (yet?) very good at understanding how individual stories work to create aggregate phenomena. My belief is that, almost always, the more granular the understanding, the better.

pithom said...

Correlation is not causation. I'm not seeing evidence of growing disinterest of males in education, and if there is, I see no reason for it to be a problem. When the college earnings premium isn't that large, there is simply not much of a point in education.