Why Learning Shouldn’t Be Equated With Fun

Should learning be fun? Well should it?
Many teachers bend over backwards to create “fun” lessons because that’s the way to “engage” our young people; the “youth of today” simply can’t be trusted to engage for any length of time with difficult, serious and challenging topics. These young people are brought up on a diet of multiple devices simultaneously vying to entertain them with the zippiest, fastest, most colourful bit of time-wasting mulch that can be designed. With this in mind, how can it be fair to expect their brains to grapple with a single, challenging academic problem? But the solution is simple – let’s make learning fun!
Let’s design multi-sensory, noisy lessons in which students can discover for themselves just how the slippery concepts of synecdoche and metonymy can be understood, differentiated, analysed and evaluated (thanks for the ready example from your blog this week @mr_englishteach). Let’s allow those students that want to try and understand the nuances of metaphorical language through the building of a tower of paperclips to do just that, whilst others who prefer to crack out the tablets to find an app that lets them play a game about metaphors get on with it, and our more “auditory” charges attempt to write a rap entitled “Synecdoche and Metonymy”. Imagine the fun they could have, and all the while a reasonably well-paid subject expert plays the “guide on the side”, gently nudging them towards the understanding they need. Hours of learning fun for all.
Hang on. I’ve got an idea. What if, instead of doing that, the “guide on the side” took the proverbial bull by the horns, stopped pussyfooting around and just taught the bloody concept? The teacher could stand in front of the class, display a couple of examples, explain and tease out the differences between types of metaphor, and then give students the time to identify and analyse other examples and maybe even create their own, all in a nice, calm, quiet classroom in which everyone’s engaged doing the same challenging but fascinating and rewarding task? Now I think I may just be onto something here. I think I’ll set up my own consultancy in which I peddle my idea around education conferences charging exorbitant fees to share my revolutionary new ideas. I might call it “Teaching That Works” or something.
You see, all this talk of “fun” in the classroom gets my goat. Fun is frivolous and pointless, a great way to unwind but, let’s make no mistake, no way to improve the mind and develop wisdom. It’s irresponsible to equate learning with fun – learning is hard work, challenging and difficult, but, and this is the point teachers need to get across, both intrinsically and extrinsically rewarding (intrinsically in the glow of satisfaction one achieves when the penny drops, extrinsically in the kudos one receives when peers and teachers recognise the excellence achieved in a piece of work). Learning should never ever be equated with “fun”; to do so is to lessen its worth, undermine its importance, and make it the same as a trip to the fair. Learning is far more important than that.


About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

4 responses to “Why Learning Shouldn’t Be Equated With Fun”

  1. dan pink says :

    Your classes may be fun, but I would not have guessed so from reading your post.

    Metonymy is everywhere. Nietzsche said that every word in a language is a metaphor now forgotten. Your post says “bend over backwards”. In fact this is an example of metonymy. It really means “bend over” (i.e. forwards). As in “they’ve got me over a barrel”.

  2. princess83 says :

    You said: Many teachers bend over backwards to create “fun” lessons.

    In fact, I read today that Ben Dover was the name of a gay porn movie star.

    Here, the word “backwards” is not to be taken literally. They really mean “forwards”. This is an example of metonymy, I think. Here you are breaking a grammar rule in order to get your message across.

    5 year olds understand metaphor – this is a natural part of learning a new language – unless they have been programmed by bad interactions with adults.

    You say your lessons are “hard graft”. Doesn’t this remind me of Dickens’ teacher Mr Gradgrind?

    A book from the 1960’s “death at an early age – the destruction of the hearts and minds of negro children in the Chicago school system”. I imagine those classes must have been hilarious – or were they “hard graft”?

    • Andrew Warner says :

      It’s an idiom that is commonly understood in the English language, but thanks for pointing that out.
      You should bear in mind that these are very different times; in the Chicago of the 60s I suspect there was an underlying political agenda designed to reinforce the cultural dominance of WASPs. These days it’s perfectly possible to use traditional teaching methods and run a highly structured classroom and still foster warm relations with students thereby ensuring they enjoy the “hard graft” of learning.

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