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    Educational Philosophy

    Entertainment and Education

    October 24, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap]’ve been thinking about the idea that learning is best accomplished when education is entertaining. In my post on Herbartian unit studies, I said that entertainment is not the same thing as learning. I can see how this could be interpreted to mean that I think learning must be dull and lifeless.

    Or something.

    So let’s discuss this a bit, shall we?

    What we believe about the relationship of entertainment to education is grounded in what we believe about education in the first place.

    It will help if we define our terms, because there is a very good chance that I have a very specific definition of entertainment while others might have a very broad one and that, in describing our terms more specifically, we will find that we have no disagreement after all.

    Here is the pertinent entry in The Collins English Dictionary:

    entertainment {ˌɛntəʳˈteɪnmənt}
    — n
    1. the act or art of entertaining or state of being entertained
    2. an act, production, etc, that entertains; diversion; amusement says something similar:

    en·ter·tain·ment   /ˌɛntərˈteɪnmənt/
    1. the act of entertaining; agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement

    Do you see the major difference between these two definitions? It’s the little phrase agreeable occupation for the mind. I think that might be where we get tripped up. If I say that entertainment is not the same thing as learning {and I do}, it might be assumed that I mean that learning is not an agreeable occupation for the mind. But that’s not what I mean.


    The Onus is on Whom?

    If I am trying to entertain you, I am trying to get your attention. I might use gimmicks. I might appeal to your passions in some way, which means that if I am your teacher I might bribe you with prizes and grades or scare you with punishments and penance. But teachers often use entertainment rather than other inducements — flashy pictures, videos, dramatic inflection, whatever it takes. We live in an entertainment driven culture and everything is vying for our attention, is it not?

    So here’s my point. When I teach, I believe that what I’m teaching is actually interesting, all on its own. I don’t think I have to dress it up and make it look good. I don’t need to attract my students with some sort of magnetic personality. I don’t need to add a special project or offer a treat for paying attention. I myself am interested, so I suppose it could be said that I model it, but that is about the extent of it.

    Additionally, it is the student’s job to direct his own mind, pay attention, and learn. In entertaining our students, we seek to catch their attention. It becomes our job, as the teacher, to earn it — or divert it — in some way. In the classical economy, though, ideas are a valuable treasure, and the student pays attention as the homage he owes to something that has great value.

    When I am teaching something that I know is worth learning {and loving}, what happens when my students don’t respond? What happens when they don’t act very interested? I don’t mean practically here, because that would be another post entirely, but I mean in my head. As the teacher, what goes through my mind? That I must need to gussy this up a bit?

    Another option is that we can assume there is something wrong with the student.

    I mean that in the vaguest way possible because there are a variety of options. Among them are that the student is thinking about something else and so didn’t really catch whatever it was we were studying, or the student is hungry and also needs to go to the bathroom {been there, done that}, or the material was something the student was not yet ready for.

    It is also possible that the student’s affections are out of order and he does not yet love something that is worth loving.

    I teach Plutarch to 4th through 7th grade boys on every-other-Fridays. Last Friday, one of them announced at the end, “Well, that was boring.” I think his mother was horrified, but I wasn’t offended. In fact, I was trying very hard not to laugh. We are all born not loving things we ought to love (and also loving things we ought not love) and the task of education is to learn to love rightly (thank you, C.S. Lewis) and, frankly, if we teach, we must also learn to put up with students not loving as they ought because if they already did, they wouldn’t require teaching in the first place.


    Does Entertainment Increase the Love?

    The logical question, then, is what sort of impact entertainment has on love. Does it encourage children to love rightly?

    I would say that it doesn’t, and this, my fellow afterthinkers, is why I say that entertainment and learning are not the same thing. I don’t want my children to learn to love a sideshow. I want them to love the real thing. This is a hard fought battle, I know, and it isn’t always easily done, but I truly believe this is the goal.

    In his opening talk for the 2010 Society for Classical Learning Conference, Ken Myers tells a fascinating story about a man who was running for public office. He took his young son to visit various churches in his precincts in order to learn about his constituency. When they entered a church with a band and lights — where everything was very entertaining, like a show — his son adored it. He wanted to go there every Sunday.

    On another Sunday, they went to a church that was very solemn and quiet. There were no bells and whistles. This time the little boy whispered to his father, “I think God must live here.”

    Myers makes the joking observation that perhaps the boy’s affections had not yet been trained to love rightly, that he had not yet learned to want to be where God lived, every Sunday. And of course the audience laughed.

    But isn’t there a bit of truth in this? The entertaining church appealed to his flesh — it was stimulating to his senses, delighting the eye. The church where God lived needed no adornment, but it did require maturity to love it.

    And that’s the point.


    Mature Love

    Lately, I see some signs of maturing love. I see a seven-year-old who, last year, thought she hated school (because she would rather be outside) getting her books out with joy (ALMOST) every single morning. I see a ten-year-old who, last year, really, really wanted to shirk the work involved in Latin, and now says he hopes to learn Greek and Spanish, too, please. I see a five-year-old falling in love with geography; she’s getting there.

    I also see a four-year-old who loves his trains more than his Bible. (We are all born disordered, you see!)

    These are little fruits along a path that I believe is headed in the right direction. The direction is one of learning to love things for their own sake, rather than requiring bells and whistles to pay attention.

    I believe in a learning based upon love rather than entertainment. This love really will result in joy, and there really will be laughter. It just happens differently, and also spontaneously.


    The Dividing Line

    What all of this come down to, really, is how we define education. If we define education as acquiring a certain number of facts and skills, then education can be accomplished using entertainment. I can sing a song that teaches you your math facts or whatever (that is not meant to be a slam on using songs, by the way). But if education is learning to contemplate ideas, to have the ability to identify which are good ones and which are bad ones, to have the wisdom and desire to throw out the bad and cherish the good — to learn to love and desire the house where God lives — then and only then do I question the place of entertainment in education.


    Possible Related Posts:
    At School with Charlotte: Climbing the Ladder {Part I}
    CiRCE Talks: Hodges’ Freedom and the Fine Arts
    Ideals: Loving Knowledge for its Own Sake
    Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 1}

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  • Reply Silvia October 31, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Hi Brandy. I lost a long comment before. Let’s hope I do not loose this one, 🙂

    Even though our difficulties, through persistence and consistency I see already benefits.

    Very early on my journey I wrote a blog post of educating versus entertaining. I admit when I got discouraged I thought though about changing to a more entertaining approach. I am glad you wrote this.

    I need to be more careful to appreciate good things as not to fill my cup with just the negatives… and if that happens, to work on not reacting, though. I like what Sarah said about developing that thick skin towards that.

    To my amazement, as I was reading from chapter 3 of The Wind in the Willows, the part where Rat goes to the Wild Woods to help Mole, and as I interjected an explanation (thinking the language and the whole thing is too much for them to dig), my youngest (almost 6 years old) jumped to me and said: “do you mind not to tell us about the book and let the book say what is going to happen?” That was amazing to me! I still have a deep bias that this is too much, too difficult, too unpleasant… And it may be. But the trick is to slow down, keep it short but consistent, not to snap, be patient but not to let their reception of knowledge discourage us.

    Now, if I could take what I preach and hang it somehow permanently over my head and heart, life will be very easy, right? LOL

  • Reply Sarah October 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I went through this big time last year with my oldest. It was a real struggle for me to not feel insulted and hurt when he groaned through lesson after lesson. I hated beginning lessons each day knowing I would bore him. However even as I developed a ‘thick skin’ towards the groaning and eye rolling and just did my job, like unruly emotions he too fell into line. This year he is right there with me leading his brothers in areas he lagged big time before. I too refused to entertain and realized it was more his issue. He needed to learn to work. We read through Rollo at work and Rollo at play both by Jacob Abbot and I read The Teacher also by him and learned a ton! I would have cried if I read your post then. It would have deeply encouraged me. in those turn of the century stories when work was honored, he saw for himself a six year old boy working through the issues of learning to work.
    Thanks for writing.

  • Reply Carol October 28, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Liked reading your thoughts on this, Brandy. I’ve always felt a negative reaction when I hear people say that education should be fun (especially when my own kids have been less than enthusiastic about learning).Often it isn’t until the hard yards have been covered that true enjoyment comes. One child of mine who initially really struggled, especially with reading, is probably the most mature in his approach to learning – he just gets on with things & tells everyone else to get over it.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      That is such a good point, Carol! I have known many people who qualified as “gifted” in the public schools. Everything was very easy for them when they were young, and the curriculum was never adjusted enough to make them struggle and stretch. It’s a delicate balance, I admit, but…what I find interesting is that many of these people will tell you they never learned to work and didn’t know how to deal with even basic things like learning to study when they finally came to a place where they had to work to learn.

      I think a big misunderstanding about education is that something that is hard cannot be pleasant. The struggle is not always pleasant in the moment, but a feeling of triumph can be very rewarding. 🙂

  • Reply Anthea in UK October 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks for the posts. I am about to commence AO. We were using FIAR, but that’s not all we did. There was loads of time for extra reading, much of it turned out to be on the AO list for yr1-2 and I was pleased to see that we had begun to have deeper discussions of the FIAR books. I think that might be to do with my personality … or my chatty kids.

    I really liked the post on Hebart

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 26, 2012 at 11:21 pm

      Anthea! I recognize you from the forum. 🙂

      I wish I could be a fly on the wall when you’re chatting with your children…I love a good discussion. 🙂

  • Reply sara October 25, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    This year we’re seeing some fruit in educating this way. I mean that things that were “hard” are now some of my son’s favorite things (copy work!), and that he is learning to apply himself even to difficult tasks to get to the reward at the end. AND he’s making connections for himself, especially in language and root words. He is steadier and calmer, partly through practice, but also because I have come to trust that he will learn, so I am steadier and calmer too. I don’t freak out anymore when he groans a little when it’s time for math. And that makes him groan less and learn more. go figure.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      I wish there was a “like” button around here. I am happy for you that you are harvesting some little fruits too!

      I know what you mean about freaking out about the groans. I had to learn not to do that, too. 🙂

  • Reply Heather October 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Excellent ideas contained in this post. The whole mature love thing especially grabbed my attention, as I feel so enlivened by all that we study and learn together,(okay, not the mythology stuff so much, but that’s probably my immaturity speaking!)that I feel disappointed when it is met with apathy, thankfully not all the time. <- that is not a good sentence and neither is this one, but I’m leaving it. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 25, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      I feel disappointed sometimes, too. I think we all do, and I think a lot of us {the Moms} are often more excited than our children, and then we’re deflated by their responses. One of the things that I took on faith from John Hodges once upon a time, and that has sense proven true in my own experience, is that exposure breeds taste. So every time that I expose my child to x, there is an increase in the likelihood that he will gain a taste for x, even if he initially rejected it. I used to think this only applied to foods which require us to acquire a taste for them, but Hodges applies it to fine arts, etc.

  • Reply Mystie October 24, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Well done and well said, Brandy! What can be hard to keep in mind is that the right love needs training, cultivating, and time to develop. Entertainment is a quick fix with instant results.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 24, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      I don’t know about you, but I think it is the time aspect that has always tripped me up. When my children were younger {and there were fewer of them} I didn’t really understand the concept of disordered affections and so I would get so frustrated if they didn’t instantly take to something, especially if it was something that is known to interest most humans! I was very impatient. Knowing that they are born out of order–and admitting that so much of my own *self* is still out of order!–has helped me to be patient and take the marathon approach.

  • Reply ...they call me mommy... October 24, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I LOVE this post! Thank you!

  • Reply Sallie @ A Quiet Simple Life October 24, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Do you really think it is sin if a four year old loves his trains more than his Bible? Or is it childishness and immaturity?

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 24, 2012 at 9:07 pm

      I meant that tongue-in-cheek. Childishness is all about our affections being out of order, of loving things more than we ought or less than we ought. I actually think it’s funny. 🙂

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