Sunday, April 25, 2010

What are we really after?

"Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one."
E. B. White

I've been doing some thinking lately about what it is, exactly, I hope to accomplish with this whole learning at home business. There are the obvious answers--children who can read, write and compute, of course. And then there are the extra credit answers--the ability to write creatively, reason intelligently and to become the kind of people that everyone wants to have on their Trivia Night team.  

But with the obvious and the hopeful outcomes aside, what am I really hoping will emerge?

As I've thought about this I've decided that, until just very recently, I have put an inordinate amount of weight on tangible intelligence.  You know, the kind that everyone can see and admire (or loathe, depending on the circumstances).  The kind about which grandparents can boast to their friends.  The kind that justifies to your friends (whether the parents of public, private or homeschooled kids) that you are not ruining your kids potential and that you are "qualified" to do this learning outside of the norm.  The kind that, according to popular wisdom, gains you entrance to great institutions of higher learning and, as a by-product, even more admiration and respect.  After all, that's how I did it.  Those were the expectations placed on me by those whom mattered most and they were the hopes that bolstered my actions and hard work.

Only because of the incredible clarity that comes with hindsight am I able to pose this question, to myself and anyone else:

But what did I really learn?  Really?

I obviously learned how to do what it took to progress from one grade to the other.  I learned how to stay out of trouble (there was that one really bad instance my sophomore year, but that was the exception) and hang out with "smart" kids which helped show others that I was serious about my education.  I learned how to take my natural interests (scouting, volunteering, political activism and public interest) that I would have pursued regardless of outside pressures and turn them into vehicles for personal advancement (college applications). And I learned that if I kept on this path of "do right-ness", that I would most likely succeed and earn the love and respect of people.  

In many ways, those were valuable lessons.
And, in many ways, I was successful.

Successful at playing the game, that is.

But what if this intelligence we're after has nothing to do with all of those things I mentioned?
What if I want, more than anything in this world, for my children to not be intimidated into playing a game that doesn't really have winners?

When my son discovers that other kids his age have already "covered" a particular topic, how do I want him to respond?  Do I want him to quickly read up on the subject so that he can be considered on par with their "age appropriate" subject matter?  Do I want him to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I know that too"?

Well, that's what my better self would answer.
The person with whom I'm most acquainted, the person within whose skin I've lived most of my life, would say, "Well, that would be the way to know you were on track."  But I'm beginning to know better.
I'm beginning to see how to respond in that way would be playing the game.

If I want this education business to be more than what I experienced, my children have got to be motivated by something much deeper.

He is more than welcome to run out and read up on the water cycle or fractions or Alexander the Great.  Go for it.  Be my guest.
But only if he wants to do it for himself, borne out of his interest and his desire to know more. 
Because the truth is that to do it for any other reason is to play the game.

I'm tired of games.

I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less slowly. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggest that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of colored paper, or plant straw trees in flower pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences. - Anne Sullivan

1 comment:

  1. I very much agree with you. I did well in school, played the 'game', won scholarships, etc....but at the cost of listening to my own voice and passions. I was concerned about the rules of the game, how to beat them, manipulate them, what the judges in the game (teachers, tests, college apps) wanted. I never asked myself "Do I even LIKE this game? Do I want to play it? WHY am I playing it?" I want my children's education to be different.