Thursday, August 5, 2010

Opportunity Indulges Passion

A blog friend of mine had a bit of trouble recently regarding her homeschooling methods. The following is an excerpt from her note to me and my response. (I have left out names to respect her family's privacy) I've added extra thoughts below my response.

Through the course of an entirely different conversation, someone told me it's not at all possible for my son to already know what God wants him to do with his life (working with animals). My son is 11.5 now and has had this passion for many years. He also informed me that I was hindering my son by not exposing him to other things and giving him other opportunities to explore and find other interests.

I would give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume he is speaking as someone who has had conventional schooling. Just nod and smile. Whether you are doing it intentionally or not, I would say you are following the spirit of unschooling, or child-led education. So let's think about what your son learns as he follows his passion for animals...

First, he is getting a fine education in applied science, something that would probably not be taught to him in a traditional school setting these days, especially for a child in grades K-6. He's probably better at recognizing patterns, since nature abounds with patterns. There's math. He's probably learning some very practical lessons about working together (ants and animals that live in packs), human relationships (courtships and friendships in the wild), and perhaps he is considering the philosophical question of his own place in the world. Not a bad education if you ask me.

Those of us who take the less traveled path are often faced with the uncomprehending looks of people following the well trampled path who catch glimpses of us through the trees. I only insist that my children be polite to them, as I consider it important to set a good example for the world. I was actually surprised recently when a woman who hadn't seen me in years (our daughters took ballet together when Sierra was a toddler) told me she remembered me because my children were so nice. It made me feel good about what I'm doing.

I'm very thankful that, unlike the pioneers of homeschooling, we have the advantage of a world wide web, where we can find like minded people to commiserate with when we can't find them in our neighborhood. It's hard to be a rebel. But knowing there are other rebels around makes it easier, don't you think?


I want to add here that I am grateful that I can give my kids the opportunity to follow their interests. I don't know where their passions will take them, but the very fact that they have passion for something is the start of great things. I was lucky in school. Most of my teachers indulged my need to constantly draw. I suppose it was less obtrusive than, say, a passion for singing or for sports. I will never forget my fifth grade teacher (may she rest in peace) who channeled my creativity by having me design sets for the class production of Peter Pan. I knew I was being given a special opportunity. I wonder how others in my class felt about that?

The result of my passion being indulged is that I never followed easy paths. I took off a year from school after I graduated high school. I taught myself to juggle and then taught myself to step out of my mother's protective shadow to pursue that interest at a juggling club downtown. Out of that came years of pursuing my own party entertainment business. I chose natural/unmedicated births over the typical hospital birth my doctor would have preferred because I'm asthmatic. Speaking of which, I've always been drawn to animals, something my doctors were also against. I breastfed my children until they were three. Thinking about all this, it seems only natural that I would want to homeschool and share my passion for learning with my children.

Far from thinking it is wrong, I believe we have a responsibility as our children's parents and first educators to indulge their passions. The opportunities we give them teach them that they can use that passion to make themselves better people and to make our world a better place.


Arby said...

“He also informed me that I was hindering my son by not exposing him to other things and giving him other opportunities to explore and find other interests.”

Why did this person make the assumption that the parent in question is not exposing her son to other things? Why did this person make the assumption that the parent in question will not expose her son to other things in the future? The boy is 11. How many children have passions for a year or two and grow out of them as something new captivates their attention? What’s wrong with supporting a child’s interests until they either outgrow them or fulfill them? We do hear of adults happily working in a successful career who say, “I’ve known that this is what I want to do for my entire life.” At what age must a child be “exposed to other things,” and how many and what types of “other things” must an 11 year old boy be exposed to?

My best guess at the answer to this situation is that the person in question disagrees with homeschooling, and is looking for any reason to cast aspersion on the practice. The suggestion that the parent is somehow wrong for not exposing her 11 year old to “other things” shows a lack of critical thinking skills and the inability to match common knowledge about childhood development with educational choices.

jugglingpaynes said...

Thanks for adding your thoughts, Arby! I think many of us come across criticisms like this. It seems to me that some adults think we are supposed to throw many different ideas at children whether they like it or not, rather than indulge the one passion we know they have. Why is it so important to force everyone to try everything?

Lori said...

"nod and smile" is always my advice, too! ;^)

it is crazy that our society has gotten such a twisted-around view of education that they think exploring your interests should be done as *early* as 11.5 .. muuuuuuch better to wait until, say, 18 .. when a "child" is a young adult and has to commit to a university major. the main reason why so many of my friends ended up with multiple degrees. by the time they had explored their interests (in college .. finally) and figured out what they *really* wanted to do, they already had most of a bachelor's degree under their belt. might as well finish out this degree before i start another...

and i agree with arby .. why on earth would deep exploration of a particular passion necessarily mean a narrow education? why not assume instead that a child allowed to follow their interests would develop a wide-ranging curiosity and zest for life?

Lori said...

oop .. meant to add ..

i agree re: what you say about forcing everyone to try everything. this is what i call the relentless push toward the middle .. toward some general, foggy idea of a "perfect student" who is good at everything, including extracurriculars. does such a person even exist? so we punish all children in pursuit of an imaginary well-balanced super-student/athlete.

ignoring what's right in front of our face - a child's passion - if we are lucky enough to know what it is! - seems tantamount to educational malpractice. ;^)

Arby said...

The people who push an 11 year old to try everything under the sun forget that the average college student changes majors 7 times during the course of their college career. That's 7 complete changes in what they want to do with their lives, all decided between the ages of 18 and 22. Our children have plenty of time. What's the rush?

Jennifer Lavender said...

I am on a slightly different path than you, as I am not a child-led homeschooler. Our objective is still to introduce our child to as many topics as possible and leave them plenty of time to deeply explore whatever they find interest in. You never know what will strike their fancy and they need that time to explore whatever it is.

jugglingpaynes said...

Jennifer, you've made an excellent point. No matter how we are teaching them, the point is giving them TIME to explore. This is what does not fit into the brick and mortar school mentality. There seems to be a general rush to complete...whatever and move on to the next thing.

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