In his insightful 2008 book entitled The Path to Purpose Stanford professor Dr. William Damon contends that, in its frantic, frenzied efforts to stuff a multitude of facts into our kids heads and to test their ability to regurgitate those facts, modern education has lost track of “the why question.”
In other words the missing ingredient that leaves so many American students lost, disoriented, rudderless, directionless, cynical, and apathetic is modern education’s failure to address THE PURPOSE of learning and regurgitating all those facts. But without an understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing, students are left with lives that lack depth, meaning, and PURPOSE.
In his insightful 1993 book entitled Punished by Rewards, Dr. Alfie Kohn contends that modern educators depend on extrinsic rewards (i.e. stars, stickers, pats on the head, and grades) in order to motivate kids. But since those extrinsic rewards are controlled by people other than the students themselves, they systematically undermine the intrinsic motivation which gives the educational experience its depth, meaning, and PURPOSE.
Due to its mass produced, assembly line characteristics (think large classes of kids dashing from class to class whenever the next bell rings.), modern educators lack the time and/or inclination to address “the why question” in any meaningful way. Instead they resort to filling in the blanks with stars, stickers, and grades, and in the process THE SYSTEM EFFECTIVELY UNDERMINES the possibility of cultivating any real sense of PURPOSE.
Even a cursory examination of classic educational theorists including Piaget, Erikson, Montessori (and Rousseau) reveals that for these folks the purpose of a well conceived education was/is AUTONOMY. In other words, a well conceived education is designed to give students the tools they need to think for themselves, to draw their own conclusions, and to act accordingly. It gives students the tools they need to take responsibility for themselves and eventually their families, their neighborhoods, and their communities. A good education produces good citizens.
With all that said I would now like to turn to a brief examination of Operation Pull Your Own Weight (OPYOW) and how it addresses “the why question.” At first glance, as the American Society of Exercise Physiologists has said, it’s “A simple, easily implemented, easily documented, and affordable solution to childhood obesity.” That’s a good and accurate description of OPYOW from a strictly practical perspective.
But if you’re willing to dig beneath the surface you’ll discover that OPYOW is built on the premise that “All kids want to be strong at everything and weak at nothing.” Yes, all kids want to be godlike, independent, and to govern themselves. The natural tendency and desire to grow stronger (physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, etc.) is built into the genes, into the DNA of all kids starting from day one, and it remains there (although often camouflaged) for life. After all, it’s always cool to be strong, and un-cool to be weak at anything.
In the process you’ll find that, despite an environment that encourages the polar opposite, the OPYOW experience cultivates “Yes I can” over “No I can’t.” Starting at a very physical level it fans the flames of winning over losing, of being over non-being, of “never, never, never giving up.” And within this ultimately simple experience you’ll find self respect, mutual respect, democracy, enlightened self-interest, intrinsic motivation, autonomy, and purpose. In their heart of hearts, every kid longs to be able to pull their own weight in every conceivable way. To that I simply say... Letter B.