Why don’t students like school?

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

In Why Don’t Students Like School?, cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham argues that teachers don’t have a full understanding of certain cognitive principles and therefore don’t teach as well as they could. Peter Gray offers another hypothesis:

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

Let me say that a few more times: School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison.

Willingham surely knows that school is prison. He can’t help but know it; everyone knows it. But here he writes a whole book entitled “Why Don’t Students Like School,” and not once does he suggest that just possibly they don’t like school because they like freedom, and in school they are not free.


  1. Ross says:

    Granted; all this stuff sounds like Gatto Revisited.

  2. Kgaard says:

    I can’t remember not liking school. I feel like I SHOULD have not liked it … but I didn’t. I faked an illness when I was like 11 and I never did it again. School was pretty socially intense. Steep learning curve all the time. And in good classes with good teachers you were getting a lot of useful data. But then again I went to a very good public school that was also a monoculture, in suburban Pittsburgh.

  3. Dan Kurt says:

    During 6th grade I was caught daydreaming during class by Sister Immaculata who detested me. She asked me to stand up and tell the class what exactly I was thinking about.

    My being fast on my feet was below par for sure as I blurted out the truth. I said that I was thinking that I was in 6th Grade and therefor at the halfway point in my 12 year Sentence.

    I was whacked for my insolence by the Nun and taken by her directly to the Principal, Sister Fabian, who considered me to be the young Anti-Christ so she delivered to me another thumping. Of course I had a strong note to deliver to my parents. It was not a good experience.

    P.S. I too grew up in Allegheny County.

  4. Faze says:

    I had the same experience, Dan. Over and over. Those nuns hit hard. In all my innocence, I believed that school and everyone involved in it were simply enacting a cruel hazing ritual that I’d understand when I got older.

    The idea that school and teachers were there for my benefit or for the benefit of other children never occurred to me for a second. It was all about crushing us and making us unhappy — and if we could survive this, we would be admitted to society.

    Anything I learned I taught myself. The first institution I ever attended that was not a prison was the Ivy League college I (through great effort) got myself admitted to. It was like going to heaven. Few rules. Great library. All about learning.

  5. Charles W Abbott says:

    In fairness to Willingham, we don’t know if he chose that book title or it was suggested by someone working in the publishing house.

    William Germano in _Getting it published_ claims that often authors don’t choose the title. Sometimes there is a “wizard” in the publishing house who is good at picking out catchy titles when they finally have to settle on one.

    I’ve read Willingham’s book repeatedly and with considerable attention. It was worth reading for me, personally.

    = – = – = – =

    My guess is that the over-arching question answered in the book is “Why aren’t students good at thinking?”

    Perhaps the best title for it might be “why don’t students think as well and as effectively as we teachers and adults wish they would, especially after all we’ve done for them.”

    Review the chapter titles. Willingham has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. He’s answering “Why don’t students perform better?”

    “Liking” is a different matter.

  6. Dan Kurt says:

    Faze, I too ended up at an Ivy for about a decade during which I had a hiatus in the Service. At the time there I “reveled” in the Libraries but since then have discovered the internet which should eventually bring the largest possible library to anyone who wants it,

  7. Wang Weilin says:

    School or later in life endless corporate meetings are the same. The reason is they stifle the will to be doing something else usually more pleasant or productive.

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