Should School Be Fun?

Or is there space for Boredom

Should school be fun? At first glance, the answer seems obvious — yes. But I know some would argue that our course subjects are inherently fun — we don’t need games and gimmicks. Others might argue that life isn’t always fun; there are plenty of boring things we have to get through in life.

So I think there are some definitions to get synced up on before we have this conversation.

Fun

Ok, so I totally agree that things can be fun and not be worthwhile. Fun is not really the right word. Interesting would be a better word. I think school should be interestingcompelling, and relevant. It’s true that my students would think class is fun if they got to sit around eating jolly ranchers, so, “being fun” is not a great measurement of success.

Boring

The argument is that it’s ok for school to be boring sometimes because life is full of boring things we just have to do, like the dishes or taxes. But I think there is an important distinction to be drawn here. Boring things can be valuable. Washing the dishes can be boring but makes a home nice to live in and is giving back to other family members who cook, buy the food, or other household responsibilities.

Busywork

But busywork, that’s different. I think schoolwork can often be busywork and we use the “But life is full of tedious tasks, so get used to it” argument. We might ask students to do all kinds of tedious tasks that don’t really have much value. In fact, I think there would be way more value to students if they learned to be stewards of their school environment (by helping with “boring” life chores like cleaning and maintenance) than there is certain worksheets we hand out.

Why is Boredom Valuable?

I totally understand the trouble with the idea that learning is supposed to be fun. In an effort to engage our students, it’s easy to slip over the line into becoming entertainers instead of educators. Now, I don’t think the antidote is to make dull worksheets so students learn how to push through busywork, but I do think there is value in hard things and in boredom.

In fact, I think, as a culture, we spend a lot of time doing everything in our power to stave off boredom. We pack our class periods with readings, lecture, and activities from bell to bell, we sign our kids up for sports, and band, and service work, and camps. And now, with all our technology, should students find a few minutes of unprogrammed time, they are almost inevitably on some kind of device.

But there is something to be said for true boredom, a real lack of anything to do. It is in boredom that we begin to explore our world in search of something interesting. It’s through boredom that we have time to learn something about ourselves. Just like necessity leads to invention, boredom necessitates creation. In a total dearth of programming, our students will learn to be at peace and create.

Where’s The Balance?

As teachers, I do think it is our job to find ways of lighting the flames of curiosity but that isn’t always accomplished by keeping our classes moving at high speeds. So how do we find the balance between fun, engaging activities and necessary activities? Should we make room for boredom in the classroom, and if so, what does it look like? Are there things we just have to get through no matter how tedious or is that an indication that it’s not worthwhile and should therefore be dropped?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!