The Game is the Game

In The Wire, Omar once said, “the game is out there and it’s either play or get played.” I’m quoting The Wire and not some academic educational journal because The Wire is awesome and does a great job of describing life. If you haven’t seen The Wire, go watch it. But even if you haven’t seen it, Omar’s words are still true. He’s talking about selling illegal drugs and I’ll be talking about school but they’re all the same. Now it pains me to describe school as a game but I know that it is and if you’re honest, you know that it is too. My school, the school that I would create in my perfect world, would be nothing like a game and you couldn’t game the system. But real school, the school that exists in this imperfect world is very much a game, and if we can be honest with ourselves and see it as a game we can help students win.

The students I’m focusing on here are those students who aren’t successful. I don’t need to focus on the ones who are successful because they already know that school is a game, they play by the rules, and they want to win. The students who aren’t successful either don’t know that it’s a game, don’t know or play by the rules, or don’t want to win. To help someone become successful at school who is not currently, you need to figure out which one of these things is a problem and help him or her get the picture and move on. Below I will address each individually.

  1. They don’t know that school is a game

Successful students know that school is a game. I’ll prove it to you. When a successful student walks into a class on the first day they want to know what the rules are and what they need to do to win. These students want the syllabus right now. They want to go through that syllabus and see how they’ll be graded and what they are going to have to do to get an A. Now notice that they aren’t going through the syllabus to see what they will learn. Finding out what they will learn is irrelevant. Every course is the same with slightly different rules and the content doesn’t really matter. What matters is the game. What matters is how each teacher approaches the game. I hate this about school. And, most of the time I hate school. But I can’t change school. I’m just trying to help kids and if they are to be successful, we need to tell them that they’re playing a game.

Action Step: Tell students that they’re playing a game

2. They don’t know or play by the rules

So we have the student that knows that the game is the game and wants to know the rules right up front. Once they know the rules, they are good and they’re ready to start playing. But what does the student who doesn’t know that they’re playing a game look like? They’re sitting out there in their seat doing there thing. They’re there. They may or may not know why they’re there and they will probably do what is asked of them, but they don’t really know what’s up. Even if they learn, and learn a lot, their grade might not be great because they aren’t going to know or play by all the rules to make sure their learning corresponds to their grade. And, even if the teacher is great, the grade isn’t going to be great if the student doesn’t take ownership of the game and make sure the rules are followed.

Not knowing that the game is the game is one thing. But the other problem is that some students might know the game is the game and just not care about playing by the rules. You know that these students look like too. They might be really intelligent but they’re not interested in the game because it doesn’t really give them what they want. These students might go out of there way to mess with the game because they don’t like it. They’re going to get detention and suspended and aren’t going to have great grades because the game isn’t for them. They have probably tried to play the game somewhere along the line and weren’t successful. If school were something like football they would just quit and not be on the team anymore. But they can’t quit school so they’re still sitting out in that chair.

Action step : Teach the rules of the game

3. They don’t want to win

Have you ever watched someone play a sport or game or doesn’t care about winning? It’s awful and painful. If you’ve ever played a sport or a game with someone who doesn’t care a bit about winning they also ruin the experience for everyone else involved. Well, guess what? Students who don’t care about winning the game ruin the experience for themselves and the students and teachers around them. I’ve already said I mostly hate the game but I can also find the good and value in it when it’s played correctly. Those who don’t care about winning at all have not shot. They have to care about winning the game if they’re going to be successful and win.

Action step: Make them want to win

That was quick and there are a lot of unanswered questions. Each reason and each action step is probably it’s own post and I’ll get there. For now, the game is the game. Students need to know they’re playing the game, they need to know that the rules are, and they need to want to win.

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