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The passion gap

4 min read


“Nothing great in the World has been accomplished without passion.” — Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, German philosopher, 1832

I recently spoke at the Dell Innovation in Education Panel at the Texas Association of School Administrators 2013 Conference in Austin.

When we were invited to sum up at the end, I realized that one guest had not been invited to the table: Passion. I was the first to interject this word, saying that “passion should not be the number one thing on the agenda, it IS the agenda.”

The #TASA13 hashtag on Twitter, which had been moving moderately, exploded, with several dozen tweets supporting my statement.

At any other conference in any other industry, passion is on the lips of nearly every participant, but at some education conferences, you are far more likely to hear the words “assessment,” “standardize,” “common core” and “pedagogy” than you are to hear the word “passion.”

There is a passion gap in education, and students are falling through it and drowning in ennui.

This is not to say that students are never passionate at school. As a teacher at the K-2 level for 14 years, I had the privilege of spending each day with children eager to learn and explore. Yet this begins to change somewhere around the fourth grade.

Why does passion matter? What are the real-world implications of an education system that discourages passion?

In a recent column in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman explained that “we need everyone to be innovating new products and services to employ the people who are being liberated from routine work by automation and software. The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.”

When Bill Gates appeared on “The Colbert Report,” Colbert asked Gates whether data or passion was more important to him in pursuing his foundation’s aims. Gates response? “I think passion is probably the most important…backing scientists who have great ideas.”

So if passion is so essential in the work world, how do we invite passion to stay in school past fourth grade? How do we bridge the passion gap between school and the rest of life?

Schools mistake passion for an emotion, as something kids like to do in their spare time. Those are hobbies. Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it. Passion is the genius of all geniuses. It’s discipline at a level we can’t comprehend. To release a passion, a student may need above all else a role model. It may be a parent, an aunt, a neighbor, a coach, but as often as any of these, it is a teacher.

To lay the groundwork for students to develop passion, teachers must do two things – greet students — by name — when they walk in and hug them (either physically or metaphorically) when they leave. Whatever happens in between, students will remember that you notice them and they mean something to you. Teachers must let students know that they expect that students will accomplish great things. All of this may sound trite, but it is derived from the responses we received when we asked 500,000 students last year, “What would make you run to school?” These responses are not confined to the young; they mirror the results when a similar question was asked of 7,000 adults.

Sir Ken Robinson writes, “Passion is a deep attraction. It can be for someone else or for a process: music, maths, cooking, sport, entrepreneurship, teaching… whatever fires your imagination and stokes your energy. We all have different aptitudes and we have unique passions. The challenge is to find them because it’s in the fusion of both that we live our best lives.”

When will your school declare that its mission is to help students find the fusion of their aptitudes and passions to live their best lives?

Angela Maiers is the founder and president of Maiers Education Services, a consulting firm headquartered in Clive, Iowa. Maiers is also co-author of “The Passion Driven Classroom,” a name that endured after she won a hard-fought battle against a publisher who didn’t want to use the word “passion” in an educational title. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @AngelaMaiers.