Just because something is difficult, it does not follow that is good or even desirable as a goal. Just because a story, a book or a poem is hard to read, a game tough to play, a skill particularly hard to acquire, it does not then mean that it should be on a teaching curriculum.
There seems to be a bias in learning. The more difficult a challenge is, the more it finds its way into school planners.
In graduate school the hardest books are the ones with the most bragging rights. Finnegan’s Wake, anyone? The harder it is, the more it entices us.
Why this preference for what is arduous, for what constantly calls on us to reach inside for Herculean strength?
The things that make people successful on a daily basis are not onerous.
In fact, everyday life – at least modern life – is easy if incredibly tedious. Answering emails, fixing broken things, solving problems, paying bills, sweeping, doing dishes, even homeschooling. This is not hard.
Showing up is half the battle. Following through is the other half. Somewhere in the middle, the magic happens – work gets done. A life is lived, the day is won.
Knowing this then why do we say to our kids that they should constantly be doing what is demanding? Why the preference for the most challenging curriculum? Why the bias against what they can enjoy as they learn? Why shun graphic novels? Why not work to their strengths instead of constantly probe their weaknesses?
Why, oh why, does everything have to be a challenge?
Do we live like that? I can tell you that the hardest thing I do lately is read all I can about running a website and history – two of my favorite subjects. I’m not jumping over hurdles to read books about math – a subject that I appreciate, but not one that interests me as something I would like to pursue.
Sure, the occasional challenges are good.
I make time to work out because I know it’s important, but exercise gets relegated into the realm of habit. I do it quickly enough to avoid it becoming a real trial. I try to make it as pleasant as possible, as easy to get done as I can. I listen to podcasts that I find interesting or music to keep me going.
Why then when it comes to the children do we place innumerable rules on them, most of which are designed to do nothing but challenge them at every turn? The marshmallow challenge anyone?
What are we hoping to prove? That they can rise to every difficulty life will throw their way? That the world is cruel and they had better learn now how to constantly tell themselves no?
Willpower is like a muscle. It’s not a bad idea to train it, but when every task – academic or otherwise – is chosen only for its difficulty factor, we can hardly blame children for giving up and hating to learn. This post explains quite well the options we have when it comes to training and educating children as well as ourselves.
Simple things motivate us, if only for their simplicity. Habits guide us, automating behavior. Occasional challenges are fun, even desirable, but we’re not – by any means – raising Spartans.