Creating Life-Long Learners

With only about 11 channels of TV, I sometimes end up watching things I wouldn’t normally watch – today was one of those days. I found myself watching this great PBS show about two teams of teens who engineer different devices. I’m not sure if they’re time saving every episode, but this one seemed to be. It was about building a better pancake griddle. There were automatic flippers and conveyer belts – quite cool. As I was watching, I started thinking some more about a topic that was on my mind quite a few weeks ago. Here we have teens competing for a college scholarship – teens who are engaged and active learners, eagerly pursuing something they’re passionate about.

While my parents were here helping us move in, we talked a bit about my “little” brother. We were born 2.5 years apart, and were always 3 school years apart. When I was in second grade and he was in kindergarten, he would help me with my math homework. Surprisingly, he could complete my multiplication worksheets faster than I could. He, like everyone else in my family, was always reading, and frequently read to. He wrote his own stories (about Billy Czechoslovakia, and his evil twin Evil Czechoslovakia), had several alter egos, and was generally a creative and engaged kid.

Now, a sophomore in college, nothing excites him, and he’s hanging on (academically) by a thread. He’s not interested in any classes, and even courses in his proposed major study don’t seem to interest him in the slightest.

So, here’s the crux of my question/thought process: my brother and I were raised by the same people, in the same way, in the same educational system, and we both spent our early years enjoying learning and having many and varied interests. Now, I’m excited to learn more about so many things I can’t possibly explore them all. While I’m always finding something new that interests me, he can’t seem to find anything. Is there something in the way we were raised that possibly could have affected this? Is it simply a product of our personalities (I’m much more likely to care about what people think of me, want to do well and work hard, he’s more likely to relax and doesn’t seem to care much about other’s opinions). It seems to me though, that these changes in attitude towards learning come as children become teenagers. So, is there something we can do in middle school, high school, and even in college to create active, passionate and engaged learners, or are they simply born not made?

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