What priority should fun have in education?
According to Webster's 1828 dictionary of American English, fun means:
Sport; vulgar merriment. A low word.
The word probably descends from Middle English, fon, meaning "to befool." By 1685, it meant "to cheat, hoax" and later meant "trick, hoax, practical joke." This older meaning is still preserved in the phrase, "to make fun of." By 1727, it had taken on the sense of "amusement." Such as "to have a bit of fun." (Note on that link...it is no wonder the kids did what they did with parents like that!)

Fun has taken on increasing importance in educational discussions. A simple internet search yields over 45 million results for making learning fun, whether through educational games, videos, internet or books. Children set a high priority on fun, and will readily inform a parent or teacher that what they have been asked to do isn't "fun" or is "boring." It does not meet with their standards of a worthwhile pursuit because it is not vulgar merriment.

It also does not inspire. It does not create in the child a desire to be better than he is, to ponder a question or to explore a topic. It does not enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, form the manners and habits of youth nor fit a child for usefulness in his future station, the four tenets of education according to Webster's 1828. In fact, an emphasis on "fun" does quite the opposite by dulling the understanding through entertainment, indulging the student in his current temper, setting his childish manners and habits and rendering him useless (or at least miserable) in any pursuit where he might be expected to perform tasks that have little or no entertainment value.

Does this mean that education should be "dull and irrelavent" as I mockingly asserted in my first post on this subject? Certainly not. But it does mean that perhaps we need to keep in mind our broader goals and objectives before we set aside our purposefully laid plans in favor of a fun activity that we just discovered. And we should perhaps not be so quick to lose heart when our children are not enjoying every minute of their education.

There are numerous words I prefer to characterize my teaching by than "fun" (not that I'm always successful): inspiring, engaging, challenging, meaningful. I am trying to reach my child's heart, to "breathe life" into her. I am not trying to entertain her.

Entertainment does not sustain the soul; it merely distracts us. Reflect on your own experiences and compare the challenges you have faced with the hours of entertainment you have indulged in. When all was resolved, which left you with a sense of satisfaction? A sense of being a better person and more confident to meet challenges in the future? Which events have positively impacted who you have become today?

I had a high school English teacher who tried to make her class fun. The class was enjoyable, but I had little respect for the teacher or the subject matter. When the speech teacher gave me his pass book to write myself hall passes so that I could work on my events in the library, hers was always the class I chose to skip. Compare that to college calculus. The teacher was nice enough and willing to help, but I saw no application for the material, knew I'd never use it again and did not really understand the formulas I was applying. In fact, I was often unsure of why my answer was right or how I'd gotten there, but following the pattern worked most of the time. I despised the subject matter and had never worked so hard on any subject in my life. But at the end of it, I was proud of that A...moreso than any of the others which I largely took for granted. I had been challenged and it was a personal victory to conquer the subject.

If I had expected to have fun, I would have walked out of class the first day.

For some related thoughts on creating a meaningful education, check Linda's post, Children feed on ideas, not on facts.

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