FAQs / Isn’t all of this talk about “learning through play” merely feeding into the mythology that all of life should be fun and games, as well as into the sense of entitlement that pervades youth culture today? Sometimes you can’t escape the fact that much of learning – like adult work, and life in general – is simply grind-it-out hard work, right?

This is yet another issue that is more complex than it might first appear. To begin with, it is a given that everyone’s life is a mixture of good and bad times (though it’s great if you can maximize the former and minimize the latter). And self-directed learning doesn’t make all learning fun—in fact, some of the best learning moments are anything but fun at the time. And some learning is simply a natural by-product of engaging in a purposeful activity—such as learning to spell certain words because you want to write a letter that your friend or grandmother can comprehend. One might be pleased with the result–”I wrote this all by myself”—even though the actual process of composing it didn’t feel “fun.” The reward—the pleasure—comes from the desired result, not necessarily from the action itself. And it rarely comes from doing something one doesn’t really want to be doing (in the sense that one didn’t ask to do it and doesn’t see the benefit of doing it, and it replaces another activity that one would much rather be doing).

Where adults tend to get most judgmental about young people’s unwillingness to put out effort is when the child balks at doing something that is primarily the adult’s agenda. In such circumstances, the issue is not laziness or lack of gratitude on the child’s part. It is the fact that the child’s sense of autonomy has been violated. They—like the rest of us—do not like being told what to do. We all like to feel in charge of our own lives, especially in the moment. Thus, it is not the content that matters—whether it’s solving a math problem or doing the dishes. It’s the process of not having a say, of feeling obligated or required to do this or that. When young people are faced with scaling a wall (literally or figuratively) that is acting as a barrier to something they really want, they will exert all manner of effort and intelligence to get up and over it. When, on the other hand, they are told to climb the very same wall “because I said so,” or “because it’s your job,” or “because if you don’t, I will be sorely disappointed in you”—well, don’t be surprised if you see “laziness,” a search for escape, a plethora of excuses, or any other of a number of barriers to achievement. You will see the same behaviors in adults, by the way.

Posted in: General Questions About Self-Directed Learning: