Crying to Learn?

Teachers often struggle with de-motivated students. They literally pull their hair to figure out ways to help this kind of students and have them succeed in the classroom. However, motivation is such an abstract thing that it is hard to externally force it onto a child. It all boils down to the individual student’s decision. Choosing to become motivated or not is up to the student. Teachers can only do so much! But there is something interesting about motivation that is worthy of our attention at this juncture.

Infants cry for many reasons. Usually, they cry when they are hungry, wet, or experience discomfort. There are times when they cry because they are angry (clearly, anger is an inherent emotion…accentuated by the environment). What fascinated me these few weeks is the fact that infants also cry when they are deprived of some learning. Yes! They cry when they are held back from LEARNING. There is an obvious paradox between how children respond to learning when they are younger and when they are a little older. Why does this happen?

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I learned about this from my son, Michael. He started crawling a few weeks ago and he gets excited about moving around the house, and every where else. There was a time he was so persistent about being carried around. This was when he couldn’t move on his own and wanted to see, hear, and feel different things. Now however, he prefers to be down on the floor…exploring and gaining control of his immediate environment. There are times when I had to remove him from a particular spot (in the house or else where) because he got hold of hazardous objects. Sadly, he is not (yet) able to perceive the inherent danger in the objects that attract his attention. All he knows is that he longs to learn about everything around him. For Michael, learning is fun, exciting, and a very integral part of his life. If I tried removing his opportunities for learning…he cries (on top of his lungs!!!). Every time this happens, I smile! I smile because I didn’t have to do anything to MOTIVATE my son to learn.

This is not the case in the classroom, at school. Students do not cry to get motivated to learn. In fact, they cry not wanting to study. In the end, parents and teacher shed more tears hoping to see their students develop an intrinsic desire to learn and become successful individuals.

What has gone wrong then? Every individual starts out as a curious infant who is highly motivated to learn. But significant adults, due to their busy and tired life, require their young children to DO NOTHING and KEEP QUIET. Adults are selfish in many ways in that they always seek to maximize their own pleasure and reduce (significantly) learning opportunities for children.

Imagine this: If I really want to continue encouraging my son to explore and learn from his environment, I must constantly clean the house, arrange his toys, clean him, stay awake with him and lose sleep, sacrifice my own play, talk to him (even though his language at this stage makes no sense to me), show him different ways to hold and manipulate objects, cry with him, etc. The list is not exhaustive. It goes on and on. There are tones of other things that I need to do if I want to provide continual opportunities for Michael to ‘indulge’ in learning.

This is where most adults fail. By the time a child gets into the school, he/she is fully aware of the fact that the adults at school are no different from the ones at home. They too are too lazy and unconcerned to allow opportunities and support for learning. Thus, children, in order to avoid possible pain, disappointment, and embarrassment, choose to ‘act’ de-motivated in whatever happens in the classroom and the school at large.

The good news is: Motivation can be awakened by allowing students to entertain the little children in themselves. When they are given deliberate and concrete evidences of appreciation and recognition for their childlike desires to learn (most often, learning in children takes place in an unconventional manner), they will become allies with teachers and commit themselves to building new learning communities that are intrinsically motivated and achievement oriented.

Increasing motivation in students is not an impossible task. But trying to do it through psychological and educational interventions often proves to be a failure. Rather, teachers would do well if they recognize the fact that students are inherently motivated and that teachers can provide environments in which this dormant (put-to-sleep) aspect of learning comes alive!

Copyright July 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,

1 thought on “Crying to Learn?”

  1. Hello, Dr. Roy
    From Chapter 1 I came to learn that studying cognitive psychology will help me to know how people understand, diagnose, and solve problems, concerning themselves with the mental processes which mediate between stimulus and response.

    Thank You!

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