Why is it that children lose that wonderful enthusiasm for the opportunity to learn that seems to be a part of their nature?
One winter day in 2005, I agreed to help teach a group of first grade autistic children in a school near my home town. I asked the children to put away their activities and get ready to go to the gym.
They were going to sing the songs they had been practicing with their regular classroom teachers; it was the day of their annual Christmas program. There was one little boy was lagging a little behind his classmates so I urged him to catch up.
“We’re singing stupid songs.” he said, with a shrug and a friendly smile.
I was somewhat surprised at his answer, so I explained to him that Christmas songs are usually the best songs he would ever learn in school. Little did I know why he made the comment!
He shrugged as he made his way to the gym. As is typical with such programs, the youngest grades went first and the kindergarteners were most enthusiastic, with their songs about snowmen and Christmas trees.
The first grade teachers brought their students up and they sang from a “Silly Songs” collection, things like “All I want for Christmas is a Hippopotamus” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
It was the same theme carried on by the Second grade. But unlike the first graders before them, they seemed a little less enthusiastic. However, they still gladly put forth the effort to shout out the words their teachers taught them.
The third grade seemed to be a little disinterested and the fourth grade seemed downright bored. But most of them somehow hacked out the words.
The fifth grade seemed not only bored but apathetic, but somehow plowed through “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and other similar selections.
At this point I was feeling a little heartburn at witnessing such a snapshot of why public school children often seem to learn to hate music.
Then a Christmas rap song was played on a boom box after the sixth grade took the stage and although chanting the words barely held their attention, most of the school seemed quite pleased with this grade’s performance more than any other.
I wondered whatever happened to that zestful, joyous approach to learning that little children have when they first begin school! Why was it “necessary” that we “accept” the loss of children’s excitement to learn!
It occurred to me that even some of the educational priorities of the schools of our childhood were almost extinct!
The teachers and principal had ear to ear grins as they exchanged congratulations on how well they had done with their Christmas program.
They had thoroughly demonstrated the step by step process by which schools can drum out the natural love of learning and beautiful music right out of the children!
The children in that school naturally put forth the expected effort to meet the expectations of the staff. But I was not a regular teacher in that school, so I bit my tongue.
I yearned for a chance to work with all of these children to show them that singing and music – learning in general – does not have to be this ugly depressing thing!
There are so many things they would love about music and creating beautiful sounds while developing critical thinking skills!
And while I did not share my opinions with the kids about what I had witnessed, by the end of the day I did find a excuse to find the young boy that thought the songs were stupid.
I told him that in working with him over the course of the day, he had taught me a lot about what a smart young man he was.