Disrupting Class and Playing Games

I’ve started reading Disrupting Class, a book by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson. It’s a look at what’s wrong with the education system in this country and what we can do about it

I’ve just started the book but was quite interested by the assertion the authors make in the introduction that a big part of the problem is the motivation (or lack thereof) of the students.

Here’s a quote from the book that makes an interesting point:

When Japanese companies were developing their world-class manufacturing clout and passing American companies in the 1970s and 1980s, a common explanation was that four times as many Japanese college students were studying math, science, and engineering than were US students – despite the fact that Japan had only 40 percent of the population of the US. ….

As Japan reached prosperity, an interesting thing happened, however. The percentage of students who graduated with science and engineering students declined. Why did this happen? … Prosperity was the culprit. ….

The same downward trend is now beginning in Singapore and Korea.

The basic point the authors are making is that students will only tackle difficult subjects when they are motivated by economic reasons (upward mobility) or by a passion for the topic.

That makes sense to me. But what doesn’t make sense to me is that parts of our country are in serious economic decline and I am not aware of an uptick in engineering and science students in those regions. It may exist and if it does, I would love to know about it

But in any case, we can also work on developing the passion for science and engineering in children at an early age. We’ve been doing that with our son by supplementing his schoolwork with afterschool work on programming videogames which is his passion (and the passion of most 12 year old boys that I know).

I blogged earlier this year that 39 out of 40 kids in a college comp sci class said they developed their passion for programming playing video games.

That’s what I am talking about. We could use a similar dynamic in bioengineering, energy technology, and other important new technologies.

Infecting our kids with passion for learning is key and we must do a better job of it.