From My Side of the Desk
Are We Having Fun, Yet?
The other day, my daughter, Kim, and I were discussing that common malady that afflicts many spouses and children, Stair Clutter Blindness, better known as SCB. Just the night before, her eight-year-old daughter had been getting ready for bed on the top floor of their home, couldn’t find her pajama top, and questioned why her mother hadn’t brought it up the two flights. “Excuse me? It's on the bottom stair where you left it this morning,” my daughter responded in her appalled at such a disrespectful innuendo mother-tone. My eldest granddaughter quickly back pedal with a, “Just kidding, Mom.” Kim and I chuckled over this familial and familiar situation, one of the many that generations of parents share, and then the thought bounced into my brain, “When did the fun end?”
Kim and her husband, Rick, started to prepare their daughters to be supportive family members, part of the Task Force that insured a warm and cozy domestic life when each of their girls hit the four-year mark. My husband, Tim, and I had done when Kim and her brother, Matt, each hit pre-school age. Together with their children, they drew up a list of chores that fit each child’s age and ability level and agreed on the rewards, both monetary and recreational. They kept us updated on the girls’ progress during phone conversations. Tim and I often experienced, first hand, our grands’ desires to show us how responsible and reliable they were. When visiting, they would eagerly offer to help me (Nanda) make dinner or set the table, or share their skills by assisting Tim (PopPop) with the dishes.
For some inexplicable reason, though, when Emily slid into her seventh year, her helpfulness abated, unless asked, just like her mother's and uncle's had at the same age. Hannah doesn’t hit the Seven-Year-Slump for ten more months; she still drags her chair to the counter to cook or to wash dishes. Domestic tasks are still fun for her.
When and why does gratification over successfully completing some of life’s duties and responsibilities morph into ennui? Why are work and enjoyment considered polar opposites? Why are the words, “I’m going to work, now,” groaned, more often than not, and “I’m going to play,” uttered with happiness? And one of my prime concerns, why does the joy of an eight-year-old running to the school bus mutate into adolescent academic apathy?
According to an article by guest writer, Ellen Wexler, in Francesca Duffy’s Teaching Now Blog, “A majority of elementary school students—almost eight in 10—qualify as engaged, the poll found. By middle school, however, that number drops to six in 10 students. And when students enter high school, it drops to four in 10,” (Education Week. Gallup: Student Engagement Drops With Each Grade. January 14, 2013). These statistics were culled from 500,000 students enrolled in over 1,700 public schools spread over 37 states who responded to the comment, “At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” (Interested readers can see the full results to this survey here on GallupStudentPoll.com).
Any parents and educators who deal with school-age children would probably appreciate the findings of this poll. I know that I do, although I do take exception to the, "what I do best” part of the prompt”. If students are only exposed to situations where they already succeed or excel, than schools are not doing what they should be doing: helping students to think and creating a desire in them to explore new areas where they might achieve “doing their best” status, but that’s another article.
When did the fun end? It ended when society decided that FUN: amusement, enjoyment, pleasure, joy, exuberance, entertainment, merriment and diversion to name a few synonyms should hold top priority in any situation calling for human actions/reactions/responses. The qualifying emphasis is misplaced. Precedence in all tasks- domestic, work outside the home and academic- should be on the word, ENGAGING. Appealing, involving, occupying, absorbing, engrossing, participating, but open-ended engagement, not the narrow, “what I do best” kind referred to in the poll. (All synonyms are from the online Thesaurus: English (U.S.).
Tasks or responsibilities that stem from a sense of pride, respect, obedience and duty, in oneself, one’s home, one’s job- home or away from home (and school is a job), might not be fun. The value of completing a mission or assignment to the best of one’s abilities, though, should be engaging…and priceless.
This isn’t to say that I dance around the house in heels and pearls humming happily while I dust, scrub and scour, like Mrs. Cleaver, Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson; when I clean, I’m more like Lucy Ricardo on one of her grungy offbeat days. Nor did I perform a fun dance in my classroom when faced with students suffering from bouts of apathetic entitlement or acting like impacted wisdom teeth daring me to extract their lack of a desire to learn from them. Hard work, both physical and mental, does not always conjure up warm, fuzzy feelings of, “Wow! This is fun!” - in me or in anyone, for that matter.
Work is just that-work. Who says, “I’m going to fun, now,” as he/she grabs a mop, lunchbox, backpack, tool belt or briefcase? When I searched MSN Office for synonyms for work, the first offerings were nouns such as: labor, employment, job, and occupation, followed by: effort, exertion, toil, slog, drudgery.
Note how the meanings start innocuously enough, but the slip into the netherworld of negativity as they continue. But then…then, (cue chirping birds, radiant sun and angels singling) the synonyms transformed into nouns for Composition: design, creation, opus, masterpiece, production, handiwork and oeuvre, and to verbs such as: act, produce, perform, succeed and thrive. Ahhh, a light does exist at the end of the Work tunnel. These latter terms swerve 180 degrees away from the negative connotations to those that showcase inspiration, stimulation, motivation and…Engagement.
So, are we having fun, yet? I don’t know. After all, fun - like beauty - is in the eye of the beholder. But I do hope that we are engaged-at home, at our jobs and, oh so importantly, at school.
As for SCB, I’ll work on a masterful cure. If you have one, please let me know so I can pass it on to my daughter.
Until next week,