This post was inspired by a comment made in reply to my previous post about options of children's education. It referred to my concern about how children are often bored to death in schools.
"Learning how to be bored and nevertheless behave in an appropriate and constructive way is a very useful skill and one that you certainly need later in life. I wonder whether children know what to do when they're bored nowadays. More and more, it looks as though boredom is not permitted and every adult should just drop everything to entertain a child."
I must say I completely agree with the sentiment of this comment. I don't think education, however inspiring and individually adapted, should turn into running in circles around the child and making sure there's no moment of boredom. I see many parents driven by the famous "Mom, I'm bored!", especially during summer vacations - so much that they feel compelled to entertain their children 24/7. As soon as the child says he or she is bored, they will be immediately taken to the mall, the zoo, the swimming pool, or signed up to any number of extra-curricular activities.
Boredom, while often seen as unproductive, can in fact be of infinite use. A bored mind is a clear, unoccupied mind, which can, when provided with the right tools, produce great things. Inventions, books, scrapbooks, crafts, paintings, new recipes, creative role-playing games, and even various household projects have been known to grow out of a seemingly nonconstructive, "bored" state of mind. I fondly remember those summers when I wasn't too engaged in camps, swimming lessons or other activities, and had all the time in the world to dream, think, and create. Many stories and diaries were written during those times, many family albums organized, many slow and peaceful conversations took place, thanks to the message that when I'm bored, I'm supposed to entertain myself, and not expect to be occupied by someone else.
Of course, I believe there should be certain structure to a child's days, but also many hours free for creative exploration - which should take place early enough in a day, while the child isn't too tired. This is what I call "creative boredom".
However, creative boredom can only take place when there is free time. The boredom children experience in schools is of completely different nature. Schools aren't geared towards encouraging creativity and individuality - they are institutions directed mainly to supply certain knowledge, yes, but also to keep the children quiet, still and occupied for an arbitrary number of hours during the day. Children aren't encouraged or even given the possibility to complete schoolwork early and then continue with creative pursuits, because it would be too inconvenient. There are simply too many children in an organized institution to let them all wonder around. At best, a child who has completed a worksheet early will get another worksheet - until he is glassy-eyed and dumbstruck after hours of mind-numbing work.
Sadly, I have seen too many children who have lost all their intiative and interest in learning. When I tried to encourage something more interesting, and asked a question such as, "what subject would you like us to cover in-depth?", I received a blank look. The older children become, the more used they are to being spoon-fed limited portions of information, and worse, they are used to equal school with boredom. If their home environment doesn't encourage good reading - such as in the cases of illiterate or nearly illiterate parents, for example - the children will remain only technically literate themselves. They will never know the joy of learning for the sake of learning, because instead of keeping their minds lively and creative, schools have treated them like delinquents who need to be sat down and kept quiet at whatever cost. I can hardly imagine anything sadder than a 15-year-old who has never known the joy of reading a good book.
I'm not saying, of course, that all our life experiences will, or should be interesting. Sometimes we do boring work. Some of us will be stuck at mind-numbing jobs for years. However, childhood is a crucial period for the development of the mind. It's a time when creativity and initiative should be generously nurtured, not kept down for the sake of convenience.