Inside I weep as tears run down that precious face and onto the 5 and the 0 as if they knew that the sweet, innocent drops were destined just for them. In moments like this she suffers, but I suffer even more with all those doubts filling my head as I hold back the tears from filling my own eyes. What have I done wrong? What should I have done better? How could I have prevented this moment? Does she know how special she is… beautiful and kind and also so, so smart?…
She walked into the room with her head hanging low. I already knew. Us mothers always do. A 50 on her science exam. True it was in a language that is not yet ‘hers’, but it was no surprise. She wasn’t prepared. She refused to study preferring to play instead. Who could blame her?
And yet, it wasn’t the first time. I had warned her the last time she walked into the room with moist eyes and her low hanging pout. The last time, I had pulled her towards me. I had told her how wonderful and smart she is. But, I also told her that she had been lazy, that she needed to study. Once again, she brushed it off saying how easy it would be, her Virgo instinct convincing her that she already knew it all; prohibiting her from asking for help. Was I right to make her choose, load so much responsibility onto those slim, fragile shoulders of hers? Now, with the consequences in plain view a whole bunch of ‘I should haves’ are drumming their way through my sorry head: I should have prepared her better. I should have more precisely explained what would have happened, how she would feel. I should have taken away a bit of her freedom to just be a kid. I should have made her study. I should have but I didn’t. Now, she suffers. I suffer. We will both learn and I am nevertheless glad that I chose to let her be.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Albert Einstein
It hasn’t been easy for me to break away from the idea that a traditional education is necessary. I studied. I worried about grades. I went all the way. I don’t regret it; this too is a part of who I am today, this too has led me to see life as a series of character building experiences, directly lived: sometimes amazing, sometimes amazingly difficult… still, what good did it do? I passed the NYS Bar Exam on my first try. Everyone said ‘Brilliant’. But, I came out of law school knowing little to nothing about life, about taking care of myself, about who I was. I knew close to nothing about what it meant to truly dream barely being able to see beyond the successful law career, the big, expensive wedding, the white picket fence, leather interior, 2 kid, 1 dog future that I was meant to have according to everyone else’s dreams for me. Back then, I wasn’t aware that most of the things I had learned in school would have never been valuable in my life; that, as Albert Einstein said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Since then, I have found my road and I have learned to deal with the adversities… to embrace instead of resist. I am stronger and more confident and much wiser than the girl that passed the NYS Bar on her very first try. I consider myself one of the survivors.
My views about education and school have changed. There is so much possibility for education outside of a classroom when a child is allowed to follow his natural instinct and passion. I now give importance to creativity, independence and freedom.
I look less at grades and honors and structured accomplishments and more at a load of dirty clothes that are washed, hung and folded by two little hands, perfectly prepared French toast served with a proud smile, a monopoly game made from scratch instead of store bought, and a kind word and hug given to a friend in a time of need. While sometimes the thought that my daughters may not be properly prepared for this world gets me feeling queasy, a world by the way, that I would prefer they not participate in at all – a world filled with ignorance and materialism, depression and isolation, violence and too much suffering, fear and control- most of the other times I see how much more prepared they will be than any other normally ‘educated’ child for another world; the world that I hope they will know in the future (although this too I often doubt). This preparation considers intelligence in all its forms. It considers what the world is going to need in the instable times to come: cognitive intelligence, but also social intelligence, practical intelligence, creative, empathetic and emotional intelligence to name a few.
Formal education and its excessively competitive environment teaches our children that they can do no good, they are no good. Kids are taught to be obedient. An obedient kid is a good kid. Nobody desires a rebel. Rebels are frowned upon by parents, teachers, society because they are too difficult to control, too intelligent; intelligent enough not to obey the rules, go against the flow and the great, big plan to create a well behaved, homogenous society… a society formed by people who obey, who don’t ask too many questions and are made to feel bad about their unexplainable dissatisfaction with the sterile, standardized lifestyle they have been forced into from when they were convinced that there was something extremely wrong with their desire to move, inquire and explore.
So, I don’t desire that my girls learn lots of information; information that serves no real purpose in real life and only serves to create more victims of a world filled with competition, stress, envy and an overabundance of loneliness. I no longer believe in the importance of knowing lots of things, memorizing facts and dates to spit back perfectly on a pop quiz or final exam. The things I hope my girls will learn has little to do with the knowledge evaluated on standardized tests which can only lead to the formation of a standardized human being. Rather, the things I hope my girls will learn has everything to do with humaneness, our true nature as human beings. So I find myself straying farther and farther away from the traditional, narrow range of intelligence focused on in schools, the type that involves primarily verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical skills, and more frequently questioning:
What it actually means to be a straight ‘A’ human being nowadays, and also, how can I teach this type of intelligence to my two young daughters?
Along with other once cherished values, humaneness is something that few people are taught to value anymore… and as a result, we live in a society that lacks patience, humility, kindness, generosity, empathy, sympathetic joy, adaptability, equanimity, sense of community and universal love- all values which children naturally possess and instinctively cultivate when left untainted and untouched.
The idea of emphasizing values over information is very contrasting to most people’s ideas regarding what should be taught in school and interferes with the idea that education basically serves for getting ahead in this overly competitive world.
The harsh fact remains that we live in a culture that rewards academic and athletic achievements, yet so often overlooks just about everything else. It praises the ‘special’ and dislikes the ‘ordinary’… as my humble side (one of my best by the way) pushes me towards the simple question:
What is wrong with ordinary anyway?
It also overlooks the fact the this type of ‘competitive’ intelligence, when left alone, is not always used for our common good; for making the world a better place. I have nothing against the straight ‘A’ students. I know many really amazing kids who excel in school. And, just as I don’t believe that getting good grades prevents one from being a straight ‘Aer’ in humaneness as well, I don’t believe that raising my daughters outside the actual educational norms will prevent them from becoming whomever they desire to become: an astronaut, a fashion designer, a journalist, a doctor, a Nobel Prize winner. However, getting the straight A’s simply isn’t enough. It isn’t the most important thing in life and it doesn’t guarantee happiness or ‘success‘.
Today’s kids and their parents are trapped by society’s expectations of them. We have become obsessed about raising kids that are likeable, agreeable and therefore, employable. We concentrate on what our kids should become instead of who they are right now, on how they should be performing instead of what their true passions are. Such expectations negate their true nature, their humaneness, their curiosity for life. It standardizes them like the tests they are forced to ‘perform’ well on. It doesn’t take into consideration their uniqueness. It doesn’t permit us to allow them to proceed at their own rate, nor take into consideration the thousands of other ways of learning.
It doesn’t take into consideration the expression in my daughters’ big brown eyes when they are passionate about something. It doesn’t take into consideration the sway in the walk or the glow in their smiles. And, it definitely doesn’t take into consideration their sad, frustrated resistance to things that they are not yet ready for. These are all the real signs of learning and this is how I, as a parent, know. But, in the Land of formal education and competitive achievement these factors just aren’t considered by those who decide.
Those, who, without knowing her, decided that my daughter has to learn to read at 5 or 6, do multiplication in 3rd grade, study statistics and scientific methods before entering Junior High. It isn’t relevant if she simply isn’t interested in learning about Wave Behavior. According to them she must memorize the words, demonstrate her knowledge on a piece of paper, feel proud of a number, letter or comment written in blue or black ink; feel not good enough when another, inacceptable grade is highlighted in RED… made to feel that a standardized result can define who she is when in the end, it is unlikely that any of her classmates, neither the proud nor the not good enough will retain or require any of this fundamental information for more than a couple of weeks, let alone the course of their lifetime.
Shouldn’t we give them the same respect to develop their reading, writing and arithmetic skills, at their own time and pace, as we do for many other basic skills such as crawling, walking, talking and using the potty?
Havana started to walk ‘late’. At 17 months we were still waiting and at 18 months – ‘a bit slow’ by normal standards – she decided to pick herself up and walk. Compared to Kenia, Havana did everything later… she spoke later, learned English (her second language) later, rode a 2 wheeler and swam later… She is learning to read in all three languages later. Later according to whom? Why the rush? Encourage them, yes… but it would have been absurd for me to insist that she walk before she was ready. Why should I rush her into reading when I have no doubt that she will learn to read and also really adore doing it when she is good and ready?!…
The more we insist, the more we worry, the more pressure we place on learning, the more we hurry them along at somebody else’s pace instead of their own… one thing is certain: the more difficult it will be for our children to learn anything at all.
So, I continue to ask:
When exactly did us parents start feeling like failures just because our child doesn’t come home with straight A’s or at least a few B+s?
Who designs all the school programs, tests and tons of time consuming demands and rules, and why should I look to them to know what is right for my child?
How is it possible that the people who decide everything else never show any interest in rating our children’s uniqueness and other forms of intelligence?
Why are we all so afraid of allowing our kids to simply be themselves?
Journal Entry: Tilaran, Costa Rica, May 18, 2015
Our bodies are stretched across the bed. Kenia is calmer now. As her expression softens and the tears dry up and disappear, she learns another important lesson: everything passes with time. What seemed tragic a couple of hours ago returns to its actual size and dimension once dissected and laid down to rest. This is something we will be able to grab onto the next time some ‘bigger than life’ situation hits us. In the meantime, I have no idea how Kenia will do on her next exam. I don’t know if she will choose to study or not. However, the choice will once again be her own. With time, I know that she will do the right thing. She will know that I trust her and she will therefore trust herself…. together we are learning how to get straight A’s in life.
To be continued next week… with all the things my daughters and I are learning about being Straight ‘A’ Human Beings.
Until then, shall we all remember that the best education starts and ends at home because no matter what they want us to believe, nobody knows exactly what our children need better than us!
love and a huge hug,
ps: Remember to insert your email and click ‘FOLLOW’ to automatically receive the continuation to this post THEY MAY NEVER BE STRAIGHT ‘A’ STUDENTS…!
References and further reading regarding alternative schooling: