Education: It’ll Probably Make You Cry

I was talking on Twitter last week about how the competitors are often reduced to tears during their rehearsals but then come to celebrate the growth they’ve achieved. As one of my Tweeps points out: Any goal I’ve achieved is fraught w/ tears, exhaustion, happiness. If it’s easy, it wasn’t worth it.

A few nights later, I was watching a documentary called Run Run Revolution. A trainer takes 10 ordinary high school students and trains them to run 10km at the Boston Marathon. It’s a fascinating look at how much you need to sacrifice and be willing to do in order to achieve a goal. As the trainer tells the kids on one of their first practices: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Why is it that we embrace pushing ourselves (or others) physically, but shy away from pushing ourselves intellectually? I was taken to task on Twitter for, in one person’s mind, encouraging teachers to make their students cry. I don’t want to humiliate, belittle, or insult my students, but I do want to make them as uncomfortable as possible. And sometimes, challenging students leads to tears.

The harder we work, the more satisfied we are with the results. But we also learn more, achieve more, and grow. I’m not saying that if we don’t cry then we haven’t worked hard enough. But we need to engage our minds in our educations the same way dancers push themselves to become better or runners push themselves to become faster. As a graduate student, I wrote on the most challenging works we read in class, to push myself. I recently wrote an essay on a novel that I’ve struggled with for years. It bugged me that I didn’t get it and I looked for a reason to finally sit down and figure it out (I think I did). And it felt fantastic.

I’m all for making learning engaging. And, yes, it should be ultimately enjoyable. But that education should always be fun every step of the way I think is ultimately false and dangerous; as soon as it stops being fun, students will give up. In the moment, it will be hard, it will be uncomfortable, and not a lot of fun. In the end, it will be fantastic. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

One thought on “Education: It’ll Probably Make You Cry”

  1. Thank you for your post. You've summed up what something that I've been thinking about for some time….why are people so shy of pushing themselves intellectually? Why do people think that learning has to be fun all of the time. I’m always amazed every time that I hear that it ought to be. Yes, I agree with you that it’s important to make learning engaged and ultimately enjoyable but I really cannot see why it has to be fun at every stage of the way. This is just not possible since often the process of pushing oneself to develop one’s intellectual frontiers (barriers) is hard, horrible, unfamiliar and even perhaps painfully hard. The process of trying to understand something especially if it’s a new body of information is not easy. I think that students have to learn that education is fun once you’ve got the hang of things..and it’s the understanding, comprehending and contextualising of the information that’s hard. But as you say in the end it will be comfortable and familiar. The pain of the learning process is just normal since one can’t have continuous fun all the time. …that’s just life.

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