I’ve noticed something paradoxical about the way many of my students think about their education.  On the one hand they want their education to be relevant and real.  On the other hand, when given the opportunity to do something that is real and meaningful, many choose to do the more traditional, ‘boring’ option.  For example, when my students were researching their inquiry questions last semester I encouraged them to find someone in the community to interview as part of their research.  Most were really excited about this idea.  They were excited to do something outside the walls of their school.  So I created a permission form that allowed them to be off school property in order to conduct their interviews.  All of my students had it signed by their parents.  But not one of my students actually did it.  What gives?

Sometimes I think that my students behave like animals that have spent their lives in captivity.  When offered freedom, many captive animals are extremely apprehensive about leaving their cage.  There is a sense of safety in their cage – it is familiar and known.  If a cage is all you know, it feels normal.  Why leave?

In many ways, schools are cages and most students have grown accustomed to learning in this caged environment.  They are used to the rituals of school and are familiar with how the system works.  They know how to jump through the hoops and how to be within this system.  And then they come into my classroom and I throw open the doors and say, “You’re free!”  The idea is exciting at first!  But then then they walk to the threshold of the door and look outside and realize that they don’t know how to do school out there and the rules are different from what they’re used to.  There is a lot of risk involved and with risk comes fear and the potential to fail.  So they move back to the inside safety of the classroom because that’s what they know.

Perhaps this also explains why when I ask students what they’d like to learn about in my class, the vast majority give me the infamous blank stare treatment.  As if they’ve never been asked that question before.

I think there is a growing movement happening across the country to uncage our students.  How are you uncaging your students?

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