I love to learn __________? (Fill in the blank)

Just the other day I heard it again- “I love to learn.”  Variations on it pepper my recent past, as students love to profess their love of learning to those tasked with teaching them.  Love of learning has become a personal trait of sorts, one that schools try to cultivate in students because it serves them well in school.

Instilling a love of or for learning has been an explicit or implicit goal in every school I have ever been or taught in.  It makes sense to have students love what schools have to make them do.  There is an assumption that students learn better if they develop a shining to the act- even coming to love learning.  Schools go to great lengths to make learning fun in large part because it makes their job easier.

Over the years I have grown more suspect of this generic love of learning.  I have come to see it as a symptom of a certain approach to education in which students have little or no control over what they learn in schools.  Success in this system hinges less on loving or liking what you are learning but on learning to love learning.  Coming to love learning rather than what one is learning often make all the difference in terms of school success because the love affair begins and ends with the act of learning, rendering moot what one is learning.  People who can do this in schools often rise to the top.  We call them good students.  People who cannot often end up at the bottom or even worse getting chewed up or spit out by the system.  We call them bad students.

What if schools allowed or even encouraged students to fill in the blank- “I love learning ______?”  What if schools asked them why or to what end.  Filling it the blank requires coming to know students and their interests.  When teachers and students can step into this blank, magical things can happen.

Students’ love of learning _________ can propel them towards learning an infinite number of other things because one blank inevitably  leads to another.  Teaching, then, becomes in large part helping students follow their blanks, to learn to fill them in and in doing so open up new ones.  It is also in these blanks that students and teachers can engage in a real dialogue about what students need to be able to know and be able to do- and why.