Passion-based learning should give students the same feelings that watching this video about base-jumping gave me– a sense of awe, a lightness of spirit, and a desire to get out and there and try something new (but maybe not sweaty palms and an impending sense of doom).
When I first starting learning about passion-based learning, I was a little skeptical of the concept. I though passion-based learning meant letting students pursue the subjects they’re interested in while neglecting other curricula– an idea that is so bad because teenagers are idiots (and I’m speaking as one). Most students would be like, “LOLOLOLOLOL I’m gonna pursue nap time as my passion-based learning project! LOLOLOLOL” However, once I learned that the passionate people are supposed to be the teachers, and by having dedicated and engaging teachers, the students would hopefully become passionate about curriculum, the whole concept started making more sense to me.
Passion-based learning is the exact tool that we, as a nation, need to change our perception of teachers and of education as a whole. Unfortunately, teachers are not highly valued in American society, and when I decided to become a teacher, I heard a lot of, “those who can’t do, teach.” (However, I gave people that said this to me such a brutal stare down that they’re probably still cowering in their bedrooms, so they’d better think twice than insulting us fierce female teachers a second time). In my opinion, this poor perception of teachers stems from the fact that, sadly, many people do go into teaching as a last resort, either because they fail at their intended major in college and see teaching as an “easy” route (and trust me, this couldn’t be farther from the truth) or, because, once they graduate, they can’t handle the stresses of an industrial job and look for an alternative. Either way, the fact that these people approach teaching as a backup plan is sometimes manifested as a lack of passion, and they fail to teach their students in understandable and engaging ways. Compare these sub-par teachers to the ideal of a passion-based educator, as outlined in a blog by AJZD (the source of my base-jumping example): enthusiastic, with an infectious desire to not only teach their students about subject matter, but to act as sincere and approachable role model for them. Students that encounter this kind of teacher get to experience the sense of awe, the lightness of spirit, and the desire to try something new that base-jumpers get to experience on the daily, without risking the functionality of their limbs.
So, the question arises: how do we develop passion-based education in our classrooms? Tina Barseghian writes a concrete outline for passion-based learning in her blog, “Nine Tenets of Passion Based Learning,” and I agree with many of her arguments. Emphasis in schools needs to shifted from the old bases of education, memorization and rhetoric, and moved to a more interactive, inquiry-based style of learning. Instead of telling students, “This is the way it is,” teachers need to ask students, “Why is this the way it is?” By challenging students to dig a little deeper into curricula, teachers inspire them to not only develop an intrinsic understanding of material, but also to take their learning outside of the classroom, and search for the essential truths of the world on their own (and aren’t these essential truths the very foundations of education?).
As for me, I’m proud to say that I consider myself a (future) passion-driven teacher, even though I did not start my college career in this field. I think that by studying engineering before I studied teaching, I realized that what I want to do is be an educator, but not because I couldn’t hang with the engineering crowd. I just realized that I enjoy science so much, that I want to encourage others to find the same joy for the subject that I have, even if they do not plan to pursue it as a career. After all, (I know I’ve said it before but) science is super cool, and applicable to the real world. Right now, as I’m typing, there’s a million things happening in my body– my sensory neurons are sending information about which keys I want to hit next along neural pathways to my brain (an interneuron), and my brain is sending this information along motor neurons to my fingers, the effector organs of this task. And all of this is happening in a fraction of a second. I mean, how is that even possible? How did the brain develop such high cognitive function to not only perform tasks quickly, but to perform them in the correct manner? And how am I even able to form these thoughts, and the emotions of awe and wonder in my prefrontal cortex? And how do base jumpers override their sense of self-preservation to be able to jump off of tall things that have pointy edges? And how have their bodies adapted to the heightened levels of adrenaline, epinephrine, and cortisone produced by their kidneys as a result of risking their lives? This list of questions goes on an on, and for real, I am passionate about answering them.
I hope all future teachers have these sorts of questions about their fields, and are truly passionate about finding answers to not only their own questions, but to the inquiries of their students, inquiries that stem from the infectious enthusiasm of their teacher about the subject matter at hand (and from the fact that their teacher is just plain awesome).
This picture is pretty, primarily because I’m not the one actually base-jumping. (Photo CC by Daniel Parks)