“Since when does learning have to be entertaining?”
I didn’t ask that question – I stumbled across it on Twitter while waiting to get into the Prado this afternoon. It had been asked by a K-12 educator that I know only the slightest.
But let me back up, because it’s important. I was waiting to get into the Prado. THE PRADO.
I’m a museum person. I’ve been to the Frontier Museum (Waynesboro, VA), the Imperial War Museum (London), CowTown (Wichita), the Scotch-Whiskey Museum (York, England), the Hallmark Museum (Kansas City), the Mustard Museum (somewhere in Wisconsin), and if it’s got “Fine Arts” in the title, I can and will double down. I’ve been a regular occupant at the Met, the Smithsonians, the British Museum…but the PRADO has a special place in my heart.
I’ll backup some more. There was a picture in a textbook once. I don’t know which but it was probably 10th grade, European Literature, and it looked like this. And it was called Archduke Leopold Wilhelm at his Picture Gallery in Brussels, by David Teniers the Younger of Antwerp, circa 1647-1651. It was a catalogue of the Archduke’s massive art collection,for the banalest (though very practical) purposes of insurance. But for me, the bored teenager who refused to read Beowulf because there wasn’t a single interesting female character in the plot, the picture in the textbook was a godsend. I stared at it the entire time we read Beowulf, picking through all the miniature portraits, awed by the fact that the artist not only had to paint this picture, but copy all the individual pictures in the pictorial catalogue. And I tried to draw this picture on my 3 ring binder. And I checked out the caption to find out where I could find it (Prado? Where’s the Prado? Oh, it’s in Madrid. How do you get to Madrid?) and I decided that one day, I would go to the Prado and I would check out that picture.
And today I checked out that picture and I shared it with my daughters. And it felt really good.
But here’s the funny thing. This is not considered a “masterpiece.” It is not on any list of “must-sees” in the Prado. You can’t get a print of it or a postcard and you can’t even take a picture of it. In comparison with other things hanging in the Prado, no one really cares about this picture, one of thousands hanging in the Prado. It’s not interesting. It’s not entertaining. It’s really just an insurance document.
However, it lit up one teenager in Spotsylvania County, VA long enough for her to figure out where the Prado was and to consider going to Spain. It was interesting and very entertaining for her, if few others.
And herein lies my point. We can’t assume we know or understand what anyone else will find “entertaining” or “interesting,” particularly in the context of learning, particularly with kids. Anything can be interesting to anyone, depending on their context, needs, interests, etc. You have to ask them what they find interesting and why…or, alternatively, let’s say you need to learning something “dry”…ok, approach the problem together. “People, we need to learning this because_____. How can we make this interesting?
Because, really, things that are learned are inherently interesting and entertaining. Otherwise, they are not learned. I have no freaking clue what happened in Beowulf, and I probably never will. I didn’t learn it – you taught it, but I was with Archduke Leopold the entire time. Just like I was today :).