I came from a school. That is to say that my education was in education. I taught in a middle school for one year and realized that after years of stress, struggling to keep up with studies and working my way through college that I didn’t even want to be a teacher. I found that the school system was designed to pass kids through it and really was inflexible and impersonal. This to me, as a young man, seemed to be the exact opposite from what a structured educational system should be. There was no room to focus on the needs of a single child. There was no way that a teacher could stretch their wings and teach kids with passion, no way to teach them how to be passionate about learning. It was all about following the DPI plan and it was a bucket of cold water over the flames of passion that I came into the school with.
I see now, 25 years later, that there is a need for a “system”, a structure that does the most good for the most amount of kids. But there is still a problem with so many important lessons being missed by many, if not all kids. Now, through the eyes of a being a parent, my frustration comes from a different angle. No longer am I frustrated by standing by and not being able to teach what I deemed necessary. I am now frustrated that my own children may be missing a learning opportunity and yet, still, there is nothing I can do about it.
Schools are great for institutional learning. My children are learning new ways of doing math that are beyond my understanding. My kids tell me that I’m “old school” without even getting the pun. My kids are learning computer applications, grammar and reading skills, and history, and cultural studies. As far as learning from books (or screens) they are very exposed. But what I miss are the life lessons that kids are no longer experiencing. This is not only the school experience that is lacking, it’s the parent input that has gone shy.
Parents need to infuse every moment with educational value. (See prior post) and sometimes that is difficult to do. I believe that children should be allowed to skin their own knees on occasion to learn about safety, about panic, about pain and about getting back up after a fall, plus so many other things. But as a parent asked me once, what if the skinned knee you are allowing is really a broken arm or worse, and you could have prevented it? We could battle from both sides of the argument but the essence of what I was stating is that kids need to experience failure to appreciate success: whether it’s a skinned knee, a broken arm, a failed exam, or yes, even worse.
I think we are missing the opportunity to teach kids that no matter what happens that we can, and should, overcome. I think that too often we teach kids, inadvertently, that at times we are all helpless. That it is easier to complain and go along then to stand up and make a change. To be so bold we need to teach them that they can do what they set their mind to. That is one of the beauties of gymnastics and sports. Training teaches them that they are competent enough to achieve what they once thought impossible. By allowing them to fall, and to fail we give them opportunity to get back up and try again. We encourage the return to the competitive floor, so to speak, but we cannot do it for them. This is a most prized lesson. It simultaneously gives them confidence to succeed and humility in failure. And there is no final failure because all failure can hold educationally value. Without a fear of failing there is freedom to learn and succeed. Magnificent. My son’s teacher Ms. Kroetz) is so appreciated for this reason. Within the structure of the school system she is allowing kids to have controlled failures. The controlling part is not witnessed by the children and they see that they can have difficulty and still be a success if they work hard, never give up and persevere. She does not hover over them and give them reminders about what they should be doing at any given moment, they have to learn that themselves. As an ex- teacher and current parent I cannot tell you how this makes me happy.
Helicopter parents are the bane of a functional society. There. I said it. I know people who proudly identify as a hovering keeper of their child’s life experiences. They feel security in controlling and being sure that the child makes safe decisions. However, I actually believe what I just wrote above. If you do too, then this will make sense to you, if not, you will think that I am a inattentive and negligent adult: so be it, either way. When we oversee every experience and control outcomes then the child learns to be dependant. To some parents this feels like it makes them valuable. The truth is that it makes them necessary for the child to think, and that is actually crippling. When kids leave home they look for other things that can again control them or make them feel secure, they find controlling friends and relationships, they find dominating bosses in jobs that make them feel like pawns. To be sure this doesn’t happen kids need time to think on their own, play on their own, imagine, dream, plan, succeed and fail; all on their own. In this they will find the strength inside. Strength that was there all along. The strength that you dream of for your child. How can that be bad?