American education has a reputation for being abysmal for a developed country. There are many factors that go into this... but one that is not addressed enough is the problem of "parrot learning." In recent years american citizens, parents, and educators have started to learn about this deep problem [at least they have found the tip of the iceberg] - standardized tests. The SAT has come under fire - which it deserves - because it promotes parrot learning. It encourages children to memorize things quickly without thinking about them or understanding them and then spit them out like... well... parrots.
It's no wonder children are bored in school! They are not encouraged to learn anything! Parrot learning is boring because it's basically... "I tell you this... and you repeat it back to me... the end."
I found back up for my hypothesis in high school - that is that students in classes based on Parrot learning are more likely to be bored than students in classes where the teacher inspires them to think.
I had a math teacher who would drone on and on through the one hour geometry class without asking any questions or stimulating any discussion or rhetorical questions. A glance around the room showed that pretty much 80% of the class wasn't paying attention at all times in every class. I was sometimes among them.
Their boredom was completely justified... what is interesting or mentally stimulating about being told facts and ordered to spew them back without thinking about them?
On the other hand... I found a biology class with an eccentric teacher who would stimulate the class on a regular basis. He was enthusiastic about the subject matter and didn't just present it... he would use visual aids and thought-invoking documentaries, he would make us laugh a lot by doing random and funny things during his lectures - like the time he got so excited about primordial soup that he kicked the air and yelled "Sha-Bang!" The class roared with laughter. But the point was, they were paying attention.
He brought up creationism... but he used it as a critical thinking exercise to show the evidence against it and get discussion going among the students to get them to voice their opinions about religion in school and get in debates with one another, as well as to teach them the value of REAL science.
He got us to watch a movie about the life of Darwin. On another day he put us in groups and had us go around the school like 16 year old CSIs and swab various surfaces to culture them. The project was on microbiology. Though there was a little bit of lecturing... he then told us. "Okay, now I want you to go around and find three objects you would expect to be covered in bacteria and swab them, and three objects you would expect to be clean and swab them. We will look at the cultures next week and see if any of you are surprised at what you find."
We were surprised! The drinking fountain was more germy than the toilet seat! At times during the viewing of the cultures we heard the students going "Eww!" or "Cool!" or "No way!" or "Oh my god!" But the thing I noticed was that the high school students [who are notorious for sleeping in class, not caring, and goofing off] were doing none of these. In fact they were engaged, interested, and having fun.
Comparing these two classes I found something interesting... the students in the biology class were actually INTERESTED in learning! Even if they were unaware of it, they enjoyed the activities and the eccentric teacher's enthusiasm for his subject and unorthodox teaching methods. Apparently a teacher's enthusiasm is contagious! Students will get engaged if their teacher cares!
Everyone enjoyed the day when he let us play around with a static-electricity generating machine. The students were laughing at how eachother's hair stood on end, fascinated by the sort-of-painful shock the machine gave the person touching it, and intrigued by the fact that if we stood in a line touching eachother while one person touched the machine, up to 7 people down the line would get shocked in some way. Of course we acted like the idiotic teenagers we were and went around zapping people for the rest of the class. Interestingly, the teacher didn't try to stop us, he just said something like "see how many people you shock before it wears off... why do you think that is?"
We never had to write essays in his class, and he rarely gave homework... yet... I remember more of what I learned in that class than any other class in high school.
Unfortunately, few US teachers teach their classes that way. Most encourage parroting, and we see the lack of enthusiasm and total disengagement of students.
Why do kids sleep in class? I suggest it is because they are being cheated out of a legitimate education! Most kids like to learn! Teachers and other educators need to give them a chance! What's wrong with our education system is parrot learning. Not only does it not really teach much [if anything] to a child, it discourages comprehension, and instead encourages speed and memorization skills [which are irrelevant to legitimate learning], it discourages critical thinking and cares nothing for a child's or teen's opinions and insights, but WORST OF ALL!! It discourages learning itself!! It teaches a child that learning is a boring waste of time and that it is something that has no benefit in exploring on your own. It discourages a child from becoming interested in reading or caring about current events, politics, science, critical thinking, or forming opinions. A child who loses interest in these things will not be likely to improve themselves outside of class by finding a subject of interest and doing some outside research and thinking about it.
Learning can be fun... but there's no reason to put this on stupid, happy face posters on the classroom walls that children will ignore anyway. Instead, this is best shown by engaging the student in fun, mind-stimulating activities, by asking rhetorical questions, by encouraging classroom discussion and debate. No stupid posters or plastic-faced assembly speakers can teach this idea quite as well as simply encouraging a child to think and explore rather than be a parrot.