The “Why” Factor: by James Portwood

Throughout my earlier academic career, I often had motivational issues. School is supposed to prepare you for life and I felt that a lot of the things I was learning would never be used again. This was especially true for me in classes such as art and English, coincidentally also two of my worst subjects. I figured I wasn’t going to be an artist or a writer so why put in the effort?

Looking back, I’ve realized that the courses in which I was most motivated were those in which the significance of the course was made obvious by the teacher. By significance, I mean why it was important to have this knowledge, practice this skill, or learn this lesson. Back at Punahou School, in Hawaii, I had this one teacher named Mr. G. who gave every student in class the right to ask why we are learning something and if he couldn’t provide a reasonable answer, we would have no class that day. Students immediately took advantage of this ability. He believed that by knowing why they are doing something, students would be more motivated in class and thus more interested and invested. After the first few class sessions, students stopped asking why we were learning things because it became apparent that everything we were learning held some importance in our lives and/or our mental development.

If students are allowed to ask why or, if the significance of course material is explained clearly to them, there would be fewer unmotivated kids sitting in classrooms twiddling their thumbs away. It was motivating for me to know exactly what roll a particular course played in my future. That fact alone got me through Statistics I & II in college because the teacher made it clear to us that we would undoubtedly be using the material in our business careers. If simply knowing why could get me through statistics, art, & English, I can only imagine the wonders it would do for you.

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