Many parents come to me over concerns about their childrens’ experiences of school. They worry about their child’s behavior, about how their children are getting along with others and about their childs’ academic performance. Often they have already done all they know to do to engage the school in changes needed to improve the situation, and are feeling stuck. While each situation is uniquely different, with unique solutions, I think it is important for all of our wellbeing that we re-think the role of school in our lives and in the lives of our children.
It’s time to quit school, as we know it, and see it as just one tool, out of many, that may or may not accomplish the goals of socialization and education.
My partner is a high school teacher. Each year, at the beginning of the year, he tells his students that they are entering a game – a game called school. He asks students what their end-game is. Most respond with “graduation”, “top grades”, or “a diploma”. Not once has he had a student, without heavy prompting, say “learning”. Now it is okay to be there solely to get the paper that will give you an average of 33% more in earnings. That’s a rational and reasonable motivation for action. But students need to know that there are alternative motivations to guide your daily decision-making in school. If learning is your end game, your actions, on a day to day basis, are going to be significantly different, than if you’re there just to get by or to get the high score.
Students need to know what purpose school serves in reaching their own goals (not the schools’ goals) before they can start playing the game effectively.
This knowledge allows them to “own” their education, to shape it to fit them and their style of game-play. Recently, our older son, when asked about his transition into public school for grade six, said “I hope it will be an educational experience.” I think he gets it.
How far do we push kids? What do we do when they are struggling? Education and academia are not necessarily one and the same. Modeling curiosity and learning in the home are the best way to encourage life-long learning. This means pursuing your own interests, as a parent, (you don’t have to wait till the kids are gone!) and talking about your passions in the presence of your kids. It means trying new things and learning in front of your kids. It is also important to support your childrens’ interests, even if they are not your own, by showing them how to research them further, to find mentors, and to engage with them in a variety of contexts. This will give kids an opportunity to succeed and will provide a reserve of motivation for the things they are less interested in but need to work on.
We all need a certain amount of success in our endeavors, in order to not lose hope and to be motivated to challenge ourselves with new things. Kids are no different.
School tends to focus on kids’ weaknesses and this can result in kids giving up when they don’t succeed often enough. Kids also need to learn how to push through, and will more likely learn this in a topic they are interested in, before applying it to something they need to learn but aren’t interested in. Start with strength and build on it.
Not all kids are built for a classroom. If there are learning disabilities, provide supports, but above all, find something they can excel in to keep the interest and motivation to learn alive, even if it’s outside of academia.
When necessary, look for alternatives. There is more than one way to do school. Alternative schools, homeschooling, and individualized learning programs are all legal options in Canada. …More on this in the next post.
Check out the book below for a fantastic guide to strength-based parenting.While the title specifies ADD (ADHD), I believe the recommendations are beneficial to all kids (even some adults:)
*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the link below, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.
For more on education alternatives see Quitting School- Part II (A more literal interpretation)
For more on work/education balance see Drowning in School-Work
For more on work/life balance see The Rat Race Ain’t Made for Humans – Get out in 4 easy 😉 steps
For more on values/ life direction see What’s Worth Digging For?