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Politics

'Making learning fun' does a disservice to our kids

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- Is learning one of your lifelong aspirations? If so, here's a quick quiz that'll give you some insight on just how open to new knowledge you really are: On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do you understand the functioning of a toilet?

Are you more of a "10" -- an expert who may have even installed a toilet or two? Closer to a "5," meaning that you possess a basic understanding of the mechanics of the toilet? Or are you simply a "1" -- with little idea of how the darned thing works, and just super glad it does?

Sure, we've all used one. Some of us may have even popped the lid off the tank and taken an anxiety-fueled peek at the inner workings.

But could you, if pressed, describe how the whole apparatus works?

Many of you wouldn't have the foggiest idea. But -- be honest, now -- was your initial instinct to rate yourself about a "6" or "5"?

According to Ulrich Boser, author of "Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything," social science research has found that most of us suffer from overconfidence in our knowledge and skills.

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Such overestimation of our own areas of expertise is a natural barrier to learning. It gives us the illusion that we know more than we actually do -- and can make us frustrated when we struggle to build upon what we think we're already familiar with.

As a teacher, I watch this happen to my students all the time. By fourth and fifth grade, they've often been brainwashed by their well-meaning teachers and parents into thinking that they're closing in on becoming super scholars. This is done in the name of building self-esteem, which people believe is a major contributor to academic success.

But though many of my students scoff at the notion of memorizing high-frequency words or multiplication facts because "that's for little kids," they're absolutely indignant when challenged to solve a simple, one-step word problem.

The combination of reading and math operations becomes inscrutable to them because they simply aren't masters of either skill and can't easily apply them in tandem. And, boy, does it ever annoy them to have to practice putting together the "baby" skills they claim to feel so confident about.

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