Sunday, October 21, 2012

Parenting Gifted Children

Parenting a child with extraordinary abilities or sensitivities 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 individual growth, self-satisfaction, and happiness. When parents are uncertain of what's best for their kids, it's sometimes 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 mending 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?

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

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 we can't learn valuable lessons from these battles, but the question of whether or not this information is timely or relevant should be considered more important that simply memorizing arbitrary information for a test (information that will be forgotten within 72 hours).

We give kids the freedom to play games and then close them off from the world for the majority of their youth in poorly lit, poorly ventilated rooms forcing them to focus their attention on learning the details of cellular biology or arbitrary standards from a bygone era.

Historically, the majority of these intellectual pursuits were the activities of 19th century (adult) philosophers. They were not intended for the musings of children. Nor are they relevant for 21st century children. So, why do we still deem it relevant?

When our present educational model was developed few families could afford books. To compensate for a lack of resources, children attended public school in order 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. At this time in history, the public educational model was relevant.

Today, our world is already industrialized. What's needed is a living model that utilizes our present-day technological tools and advanced mindset in a way that allows for growth and change. We are modern day gatherers of knowledge, our key focus should be on determining the validity and relativity of the knowledge we encounter about ourselves and today's world.

Having one or two hours of access to the Internet at school to focus on ancient knowledge or antiquated learning techniques is not the same thing as utilizing advanced technological tools to aid us in making new discoveries or in exploring what we can create from the newest tools and programs available to us.

Historically, knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. Educating the general public was about celebrating the latest discoveries, not punishing creativity. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten the purpose. Because of this, only the processes we learned have remained.

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 the creation of ATP from ADP and how biological energy is used unless you're going into the medical sciences. This is not to say that biology is not a worthwhile endeavor, but the important discoveries in this field that are relevant to our health and future well-being is what will attract new generations, not the specifics of releasing energy when there's no context or prior desire to learn more.

What we need to do is let go of the old systems that seem to punish individuality. We need to be willing to listen and learn from children rather than assume they have nothing of value to contribute. The unicity of each person should be developed and guided, not defined and labeled.

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.

The real question is... Who of us is brave enough to guide a child in discovering the world for themselves?   I wouldn't ask anyone this question unless I had asked it first of myself.

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 Neo-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 tightly to any predefined lifeline offered, despite whether or not it causes turmoil for the child and their family.

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 thinking that arises when people feel enriched rather than suffocated.

Some kids are avid readers with a passion for learning, discovery, and adventure, but put them in a classroom and they like this...

While some children actually excel in a closed-network environment, it's usually for other reasons (pleasing parents or teachers, fear of punishment, fear of failure).

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

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