Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Genius Denied

Parenting a kid with any special ability or sensitivity can be a lonely experience. Despite the feelings of joy and laughter that come with raising a child and the pleasures we derive from seeing them do things that take our breath away, many parents still find themselves uneasy and perhaps apprehensive to think of their child as "needing" something beyond what they believe they can offer.

It's not about offering our kids everything, it's about offering them what is relevant for their own growth, self-satisfaction, and happiness. When parents are uncertain of what's best for their kids, it's easier to push that job off onto teachers and systems, despite whether or not those systems are relevant or helpful for our children.

What is the highest possible good that can come from a western education? Is the goal for every child to become a professor, a lawyer, or medical physician?

What do you do when you have a child that does not want to go into the field of educating others, litigating disputes, or casting broken bones? What then? Do we label them as "special needs" or "maladjusted" just because their interests lie elsewhere?  What is it that's stopping us from allowing children to become uniquely qualified in an area of their own choosing?

Einstein's professors tried to eradicate his "uniqueness".  I can't help but wonder what more he would have envisioned had his youthful ingenuity been respected...

In a world fraught with dangers, it's easy to panic, and for the kids' "own good," put them back into the box.

I think that there are plenty of ways to survive in the world without knowing the details of every 17th century battle that our forefathers fought. It's not that there aren't things we can learn from these battles, but the question of when we should learn them or under what applicable context they are relevant seems to me more important that having arbitrary information floating around our brains and taking up space at times when this information is not relevant.

We give kids the freedom to play games and then lock them up all day in poorly lit and poorly ventilated rooms forcing them to focus on cellular biology, adverbs, and arbitrary standards from a bygone era.

These pursuits were the activities of 19th century philosophers. They were not intended for the musings of children, much less for 21st century children. So, why are we still buying into this relevance?

The subjects we fearfully shove down our kids' throats to the point of misery and exhaustion are subjects that highly educated philosophers considered.  How can anyone justify models of inquiry dating back to antiquity relevant in a time when knowledge is at our fingertips?

When our present educational model was developed few families could afford books. Children went to school to learn how to write their names and to learn about new discoveries and ways of thinking that were relevant to advancing the industrialized world.

But our world is already industrialized. What's needed is a new model that utilizes our present-day technological tools and advanced mindset. We're a modern day gatherer of knowledge, not a hunter in search of his next conquest.

Having access to the Internet at school to focus on ancient learning techniques is not the same thing as utilizing advanced technological tools to make room in pursuit of new discoveries.

Historically, knowledge has always been passed down from generation to generation. Educating the general public was about celebrating the latest discoveries, not punish creativity.

Somewhere along the way, people forgot the purpose. Because of this, only the processes have remained. The subjects we so painstakingly learn are ancient discoveries, not modern standards.

New discoveries could lead to the nourishment of our starving global citizens. Teaching compassion and understanding could eventually eliminate oppression and greed.  Who cares about biology unless you're going into the medical sciences.

What we need is to toss away the old systems that punish individuality. We need to be willing to listen and learn from children rather than assume they have nothing of value to contribute.

I'm not suggesting anarchy or doing away with the systems that protect citizens, but let's admit it, many of the citizens who act out are acting out because their needs are not being met.

We still live in a world where we punish citizens for stealing food to feel their families. What do we expect?  We are a species that adapts, that overcomes, and that searches for new ways to solve problems. If you see a baguette in the window and you're starving, the logical thing to do, despite the systems in place preventing you from doing so, is to take the baguette and eat it.

The real question is... Who of us is brave enough to allow a child to discover the world for themselves?

I wouldn't ask anyone this question unless I had asked it first of myself.  It is scary to be a parent in a world where we know we cannot always protect our children, but hiding them away from the world inside an outdated model of 'becoming something they already are' is not protecting them. It's teaching them to deny their humanity, which can only lead to more problems.

Perhaps if we weren't in such a hurry for our children to "grow up" or so busy comparing them to one stereotypical Athenian citizen, we'd actually make way for Rome's youngest citizens to grow.

In a world with real problems and true dangers, it's easy to hold onto fear and grab on tight to any lifeline, even if that lifeline is ruining your life and the life of your child.

This is not to say that learning isn't of value. However, let's not confuse learning with the memorization and regurgitation of outdated, canned knowledge.

Guided self-discovery along with emotional intelligence coaching and an opportunity to express oneself does wonders for the development of more advanced activities that arise when people feel enriched rather than suffocated.

I am an avid reader with a passion for learning, discovery, and adventure. Put me in a classroom and I look like this...

Not everybody feels the same way I did as a kid, some children actually excel in a closed-network environment - and that's fantastic.  

Still, I can't help but wonder if they're excelling just to make their parents and teachers happy. I guess the answer to that question can only be found out by asking a kid. 

Despite the differences we have in the world, we need to make a little more room for people to discover it on their own terms. 

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