When my daughter was about 18 months old we were at the playground. She’s been a child challenging her boundaries since birth, so she was climbing and running everywhere. I was sitting and watching and truthfully checking my twitter feed on the phone. As she attempted to go up a ladder she fell. It was a hard fall and obviously painful.
I went to her and picked her up in my arms as she bawled. Doing my best to soothe her as she cried, I tried explaining to her that when pushing yourself sometimes you’ll have falls. Then without really thinking about it, I said, “You know you’re going to have to get up and try again.” She continued to cry with no acknowledgement of what I’d said, but two minutes later she shook off my arms, marched silently back over to the ladder and proceeded to climb it.
To say I was proud is putting it mildly. I was over the moon. My child had some grit. You couldn’t keep her down. She fell, she got right back up and did it again. A Weber family mantra was born. “I’m going to try it again Daddy. Because thats what we do. Thats what you always say.” Her brother, 14 months younger, was quickly indoctrinated as well.
I must admit I was pretty proud of myself. My kids understood that you couldn’t let failure keep you down, They were getting back on the proverbial horse and marching forward. This parenting thing was easy I would tell myself. Just ingrain these truism’s early and then sit back and watch them march to success. But then I learned a lesson.
As they got older they started creating more complex challenges. Predictably they would fail at some of theses challenges and predictably I would hear, “I’m going to try it again Daddy, Because thats what we do. Thats what you always say.” My words would come back to me and I would cringe. Obviously some of these tasks didn’t need to be attempted again, but how do you explain that to little minds that aren’t developed enough to make that differentiation?
The lesson I learned is that children aren’t just vessels you fill with information. They bring their own interpretations to the table. Every lesson has a flip side. There is no clear good message and no clear bad message. Education like life itself is made up of a lot a grays and we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about these grays.
Read just about any education article and you’ll find children painted as these one dimensional creatures starving and open for knowledge every day. They don’t have time for anything but the learning of reading and math. Anybody who’s been around children knows that this is just not true. While generally inquisitive, its not always about the things we’d like them to be about. Nor is it always at the level we would demand. Sometimes its all about the cute boy in 1st period or who wins in a fight between Thor and Hulk. Somedays its about nothing.
Think about it though, are you always at 100% job? What about those moments you sneak a peek on the internet at the Oscar dresses when you should be finishing up a presentation. Maybe you spent an hour today, when you should have been working, filling out your fantasy football squad. Lets not forget those days when you tell the boss your feeling under the weather and then slip off to an afternoon movie. Obviously we as adults are not 100% rigorous, why should we expect children to be any different?
Still we send a message that the secret to better education is more rigor. More drill time. More testing. Less time for the unimportant stuff like art, music or play. Then when children embrace this out of necessity we clap ourselves on the back and say what great educators we are. We are making kids college and career ready. But do we ever consider the flip side.
By increasing this rigor and discipline and getting kids to buy into it, what are we sacrificing? Are we producing adults that understand their role in a democratic society? Are we producing creative adults that understand that sometimes the best ideas come when you’re just goofing off? Are we producing adults that understand that learning isn’t a competition but as essential to life as breathing? Will future generations know when to put rigor aside and concentrate on family? I wonder.
When my daughter was born, I held her in my arms and swore that their would be no princesses in her life. They send the wrong message and my daughter was going to grow up understanding that she could be whomever she wanted and that princesses just reinforced old stereotypes. Well despite my best intentions, my daughter fell in love with princesses and I came to the realization that by fighting against the princesses I was also limiting who she could become. So I capitulated.
Recently I found a Princess book of math problems. Even though it was meant for older children I got it. Well the Princess’s instantly drew her attention. It wasn’t long till we were spending time after dinner working math problems. She was hooked. One night on the way home a little voice in the back asked, “Daddy, when we get home, can we do math.” I smiled and said, “Yes my dear, we can do math.”