The Drive to Learn

Speed demons.

When they’re on the road, we’re left gripping our steering wheels in fear, praying that they don’t crash and kill someone. We recognize their speedy driving as inconsiderate of others; cutting off people, not thinking about what might be up ahead, and barreling through while we anticipate their crash and burn. Why do we want our children to be just like them?

Cut to your work-life. Isn’t it full of rush-rush, throwing together lots at the last minute, trying to catch up or get ahead? Multi-tasking has become a national phenomena and while it may get things done, intrinsically we know we’re not doing our best. There’s just no time.

While the stress of the drive home is increasing and our lives are haphazardly being thrown together, so it is for our children. I continue to read about additional testing coming into the schools all in the name of “helping”. It’s not helping, it’s throwing one more obstacle in the way of the drive to learn. It’s doing nothing but slowing our kids down. It’s only increasing the pressure.

Yes, I realize we live in a fast-paced world, but don’t we also live in a stressful one? Do we really want to add more stress to “prepare our kids for the real world”? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to slow down to make sure our children actually understand, instead of trying to make up lost laps later?

Unfortunately, this is what’s happening with our children and their learning. The pace continues to increase, more content is thrown at students and more testing follows. When are the students expected to process this learning or look for connections?



Timed tests have become commonplace. Whether it’s for multiplication fluency or because the educational standards list is just so long, I’m not impressed. What happened to true understanding? We’re leaving it by the wayside and our children are suffering. There’s always more, more, more to be done. Nothing goes away, it only compounds as we race faster and faster with no finish line in sight.

In our high speed (internet, microwave, drive thru) world, we want immediate everything, but we’re sacrificing our children’s minds in the process. If speed was such an important skill, we’d be teaching speed-reading to our students. (I better not give the educational system any ideas.) Are the best readers, the fastest readers; or do we value more in-depth understandings? Are the students who can rapidly recite math facts and algorithms the ones who will travel the farthest or do they have the same chance of burnout?


“The world respects people who can calculate quickly, but the fact is, some people can be very fast with numbers and not be able to do great things with them, and others, who are very slow and make many mistakes, go on to do something amazing with mathematics. The powerful thinkers in today’s world are not those who can calculate fast, as used to be true; fast calculations are now fully automated, routine, and uninspiring. (see Boaler, 2013) The powerful thinkers are those who make connections, think logically, and apply the breadth and depth of mathematics to a variety of problems. ~Jo Boaler at


Processing speed (the ability to take in information and synthesize it quickly) is a separate, but related issue in learning. It’s treated separately on IQ tests. Even many gifted students don’t receive top notch scores in this area. Why not? Because to process difficult concepts efficiently, they need time. Otherwise, we send the learning onto short-term memory hoping it will hold out until testing is over so we can say the students are learning. They’re not. They’re busily memorizing for short-term regurgitation, but to truly understand we need to use the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy more often. To achieve true learning, we need to slow down our race cars long enough to think, understand, and connect what we’re learning. We need a pace car.


Students can lose control of their drive for learning in a variety of ways:


Wheel Grippers:

Somewhere along the way our confident and eager children became overwhelmed wheel grippers. We’re pushing them to top out their speed and throwing obstacles at them like standardized testing every mile of the road. Add weak skills and just like weak brakes, our drivers are going to notice that they’re driving is out of control. Meanwhile, the adults in their lives are on their tails to do more. When we hand over the keys to our children and give them the power to take it nice and slow, they’ll have time to enjoy the ride and have the confidence to take those unfamiliar routes along the way. Challenging tracks are a good idea, but not before our kids are ready for them. Right now, our kids have little choice.


Behind the Wheel Nappers:

These are the kids who have lost their drive. They were cruising along, enjoying the power of their own minds when suddenly they realized they’ve been driving the same course….forever. Eventually, the boredom overtook them and they began to doze off. Nothing novel playing on the radio and the same old scenery almost encouraged them to check out of their own learning. The drive became passive and the challenging course disappeared. By the time “I’m bored” permeated the brains of the road builder, these kids had pulled over to nap. Many never bother to get back on course. Though we may be able to force these kids along, they’re no longer interest in the drive, just the finish line.

Scenic Route Drivers:

These are our divergent drivers. The ones who decide that the learning road isn’t taking them where they want to go, so they decide to take a detour…or two..or ten, and end up off course. These drivers don’t like driving the same path every day and take it upon themselves to keep the drive interesting. The problem is that sometimes the teacher can’t find them or don’t understand that they’ve set a different destination or are driving blind or without any hands on the wheel-anything they can to keep it interesting. Scenic route drivers can find their way around because they can see the road map all in their mind. They know the destination and are set on getting there on their own time and in their own way. Only roadblocks from teachers and other adults slow them down or throw them off course. Eventually they learn that they’ll be blocked often and spend their time trying to navigate around, instead of heading straight on. It takes an immense amount of energy to enjoy the drive when you have to look for falling debris at every turn.


Road Mappers or GPS slaves:

These kids aren’t speedy, they’re cautious. They may be perfectionists or they may just obey all of the laws of the road. Either way, they will arrive at the destination, but it may take them more time due to hesitation, fear, or just plain, care. They know the drive by heart because they tend to answer only when they’re sure, often relying on those who designed the maps more than themselves. When construction gets in the way, these students freeze in their tracks and may stall out on the road to learning. They’ll need someone who allows them to cool down and then points them in the right direction long enough to allow them to start their own engines and merge when they’re ready. Push them too fast or too far too quickly and you’re asking for a breakdown or a headlong crash.




As a teacher or a homeschooling parent, you set the course. You are the pace car. You get to slow down or let your child loose. Unlike the IndyCar, the fastest learner doesn’t always win the race. You can change the track, increase or decrease the obstacles, or just sit back and enjoy the view. Either way, your child will get there- if you let him adjust his pace and his course.

When we grab the steering wheel away from our own children, we take away their drive to learn. Faster isn’t always better. We all need to slow down to enjoy the drive. If we continue to push our children (and ourselves) beyond our limits, we’re just asking for a pile up just around the bend.






5 thoughts on “The Drive to Learn

  1. Love the analogy Lisa, thank you – pretty sure I cycles through each of those scenarios as a student in state education. Couldn’t figure out which was a better place to be… turns out none of them are great in the long run 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am just wondering when “learning” replaced “education”, and whatever happened to “learn about”. One thing which is rarely mentioned is that a main purpose of “education” is to teach people how to teach themselves.
    I am perpetually amazed by folk who describe their schooldays as “the best years of my life”.

    Liked by 2 people

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