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Autonomy, complexity…fulfillment February 18, 2009

Filed under: Education,Things to remember — Ms.M @ 11:54 am

Although I think there is quite a bit in Gladwell’s Outliers that seems to go against what we think of conventional education, there is one quote that stood out to me in my last couple days of reading. It wasn’t necessarily a stand out or new idea, such as the one that birth date has much more of a role in success than we currently think about. But it had that stand out (ah-ha!) effect on me. Maybe because I have this sort of thing on the brain as of late.

“Those three things–autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward–are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us…Hard work is a prison sentance only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.” (p. 149-150)

The idea of conventional schooling is tied to the idea that we are preparing students for the working world. But what sort of working world are we preparing them for exactly? Not this type of working world that this quote implies is what makes for fulfilling work and therefore a fulfilling life. If we were to think about work in this way than in some ways what happens in the classroom would have to embody these same qualities more so than it currently does. Students would need to feel “autonomous,” or that they play a significant enough role in their own work/learning, that their work/learning experiences are “complex,” with problems and questions that push beyond the curriculum, and that there is a real and meaningful “connection between effort and reward” in their work/learning.

But what really stands out to me is this part of the quote:  “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”

Hard work, in the learning process, can also be a prison sentence if it does not have meaning for the student. We can say that students who are not successful in the classroom lack the ability to work hard, but we can also say that these students lack the will to work hard if the learning has no meaning to them, is not connected in some way to their lives, experiences, conceptions of the world.

At the same time, how much more fulfilling and satisfying would individuals expect their working lives to be if their experiences with “work” in the classroom felt more fulfilling and satisfying? Much more so I imagine.


2 Responses to “Autonomy, complexity…fulfillment”

  1. jmjd Says:

    I agree that Gladwell has a lot of implications for schools in this as well as his other books. I love them one and all and share them with my middle school students. Thanks for reminding me of the power of this passage.


  2. Ms.M Says:

    Thank you Judy for reading and commenting. I’m wondering what it is you mean when you say you share his books with your middle school students? His writing, the ideas in his books, or the books themselves?

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