Should Learning Always Be Fun?

This is the third in a series of five posts written by Dr. Jeff Walton commenting on “five truths” of progressive education identified by Maya Thiagarajan in an Education Week blog on August 15, 2016.  Thoughtful Christian educators reject many of the practices of progressive American education because progressive principles and practices sometimes conflict with biblical truth about the nature of children and the nature of learning.  Maya Thiagarajan is an American-educated English teacher who has been teaching in Singapore.  She is the author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting in the Global Age.  In her Education Week guest blog on August 15, 2016, Maya frankly discusses five “universal education truths” that as an American teacher she believed and “religiously” followed until her move to Singapore in 2010.  In the first two articles, I commented on the first and third truths.  In this article, I’ll take up the second truth.

Truth #2: “Learning should always be fun. As a teacher, you’ve got to make it fun. If kids are not engaged, it’s the teacher’s fault.”Learning is Fun

In Singapore, parents and educators seem much less concerned with entertaining kids and making learning fun.  In fact, the word “fun” seems to suggest a game or a party, and education on this island is certainly no game or party.  It’s serious business.

But that doesn’t mean that kids don’t like learning.

What I’ve realized is that many students find serious academic work very satisfying, and as educators, we shouldn’t be hesitant to engage our students in challenging work and demand excellence from them.  One Chinese teacher at my school told me… “We Asians aren’t so interested in constantly having fun.  Our kids learn to like serious studying and learning.  They don’t want or expect everything to be a game or a party.”

Life is not all about having fun

For Christian educators, this is a really important aspect of classroom and school culture that we must develop because it reflects an important biblical understanding about how we approach life.  Life is not about fun, entertainment, and thrills. Life well lived, for the Christian, is about service, sacrifice, and satisfaction.  I have been blessed with many opportunities to speak to high school chapels and graduation services.  One of my favorite messages is about the difference between happiness and joy, the difference between living for thrills and living for satisfaction. The sermon is illustrated with personal stories about a roller coaster ride on the Hypersonic XLC (exciting and thrilling) and a two-day hike to Rawah 4, a remote lake in the Colorado Rockies (challenging and satisfying). I conclude the illustration by noting that I would trade 1,000 Hypersonic XLC rides for one afternoon at Rawah 4.

Finding satisfaction in hard work

How do we help our students to have that mindset? The answer is complex and challenging, but I believe that part of the answer is to develop a classroom and school culture that is serious about education and challenges students to find satisfaction in work done well and difficult tasks accomplished through diligence and perseverance.  The Christian school classroom should be always pleasant, but not necessarily always fun.  Work should be always worthwhile and productive and focused on important and identified learning goals, but not effortless.  We will have accomplished something very worthwhile if we produce students who seriously approach challenging problems and find satisfaction in hard things done well.


Thiagarajan, M. (2016, August 15). Five lessons from teaching in Singapore. [Web log post]. Retrieved from lessons_from_teaching_in_singapore.html?qs=teaching+in+sigapore

Dr. Jeff Walton serves as executive director of the American Association of Christian Schools, headquartered in Chattanooga, TN. He is the editor of Journal for Christian Educators.