Yes, fun is a good goal

Have you ever run into students over the summer who told you excitedly that they are studying vocabulary for next year? Drawing graphs? Solving problems with formulas? Reading textbooks?

No, probably not.

Last night I ran into three students at a Junior Achievement event, and they couldn’t wait to tell me what they’d been doing — apparently, spending hours and hours this summer working on their startup business, Rhidian Tech. A local Starbucks is their office, and they spend so much time there that they get free refills along with the free wi-fi.

These students (and a few dozen more) started Rhidian Tech as a JA Company last year, part of the after-school Econ Club. Their business creates software to help schools with scheduling flex hours, when students can meet with teachers or make up tests. This summer they are working on the product, arranging beta-testing in several schools, and pounding the pavement to find more customers.

Why is this kind of work — and it is work, believe me — so compelling when most school work is not? These are solid students, but they procrastinated and pushed deadlines in class just like everyone else. My theory: Because this work is fun.

Education Week published a blog this week critical of the idea that school should be “fun.” I get it; the writer is interpreting “fun” as a trivial matter, as opposed to “engaging” or “satisfying.” But the Rhidian Tech leaders would say what they are doing is fun. They like doing it; they want to spend more time on it; they light up when they talk about it.

And you know what? I would describe my job as fun, too. Teaching isn’t just engaging or satisfying (or frustrating, of course), and it definitely isn’t just a paycheck. Students and colleagues make me laugh every day, and I look forward to our activities, our conversation, the unpredictable nature of it. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it.

I agree that school shouldn’t be “fun” in the sense that it shouldn’t be a juggling act or a pool party. But it should be fun. When you enjoy what you’re doing, your brain is more engaged, you learn more, and you want to keep at it.

Rather than shooting down fun, let’s broaden our idea of what makes something fun. If adults can find meaningful fun in the workplace, surely our students should be able to do the same.