All too often in schools around the country, students ask, “Why do we have to know this?” or “Do we really have to do this?” As with adults, work that lacks reason or context can feel meaningless and even a waste of time. So, how do we as teachers and parents help our children understand that what they are doing will pay dividends and will help them become productive and fulfilled people as they grow up? A recent essay in The New York Times by Paul A. O'Keefe, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, entitled “Liking Work Really Matters,” discusses how to help students see the relevance and applicability of the things they are studying. He begins by showing how homework in a calculus class may seem dull and meaningless to one student, but an aspiring architectural student might be excited and energized while studying the same set of formulae.
As O'Keefe points out, “Research by the psychologists Chris S. Hulleman of the University of Virginia and Judith Harackiewicz of the University of Wisconsin suggests that for most of us, whether we find something interesting is largely a matter of whether we find it personally valuable. For many students, science is boring because they don’t think it’s relevant to their lives.” I thought about this while I considered the kind of work that Bosque students do in their classes. Do our students value their science more when they are doing research in the bosque, knowing that their data will have a direct impact on the resource management of our riparian forest? Were students in last year’s Physics 2 classes more intrigued with their work as they prepared to be the first people in history to text into outer space? Do juniors and seniors enjoy the many hours of research they perform when they are working on their thesis topics because they have in fact chosen those subjects? Based on my many conversations with them, I believe that in all of these cases, they do appreciate their work more than they would otherwise. Their work has meaning and context; consequently, they are more motivated than they would be if their assignments had no real-life application or if they had been assigned their thesis topics. As a fellow Bosque parent, as a teacher, and as the head of school, I look forward to joining with you in an ongoing journey to help our students see that what they are learning today has relevance and applicability to their lives tomorrow.