Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When In Doubt

When we are growing up, most of us are taught that to have doubt is a negative feeling. We are taught we need to know what we want to be, where we want to live, how we want to live, who we want to marry and how much money we want to acquire. In fact knowing insinuates a toughness, a clarity, a wiseness, a single mindedness that will allow us to walk one very straight and narrow path to glory. It conjures images of rough riding cowboys, roping cattle and staring into the sunset. They know their destiny.  They know they are cowboys 'til the end.
Doubt is given a bad wrap. If we have doubts there is something wrong. In fact, there is an entire self help industry built on getting rid of doubt, but what if doubt isn't so bad? What if doubt is what we actually need to help us find better solutions, whether it is for our personal  lives or our academic explorations? Doubt is the moment when we stop and question what we believe to be reality.  What if we started to doubt all the things in our personal lives that cause us trouble. What if we really stopped and questioned if our child was "behind" in reading or math. Is it possible they are? Sure. Is it possible they aren't? Sure.  What if we paused to question whether our child really needed extra tutoring. Is it possible they do? Sure. Is it also possible they don't? Sure.
When we begin to call into question all that we have taken for granted in education, then we can begin the transformation process because we will no longer be accepting traditions without looking to see if they truly are working for us. Are there things that do work in our system? Yes and we should keep those, but not without questioning them first. The process must be endured before an outcome is settled upon.
In school we train kids away from doubt. We tell them not to doubt themselves. We tell them not to doubt what we are telling them. We teach them lessons that push them in a single direction without fostering a sense of inquiry. In fact in a school setting crammed with test taking and a focus on teaching specific techniques to reach a certain goal, the state of inquiry is often frowned upon. We simply don't have time to sit around and question what we are learning!
But what if we taught The Doubt of Science and The Doubt of History? We would be growing minds ripe for critical thinking instead of ones conditioned to fill in bubble sheets.
As every great inventor or thinker will tell you, their most profound moments began with doubt. All inventions start at a point of inquiry.  All the great philosophies and religions of the world started with a moment of thoughtful doubt in which the individual said, "I'm just not sure that is true. Let's think about this for a moment." With that they were off and running, molding and shaping how we now view and understand humanity thousands of years later.
Doubt needs to be modeled by adults. In our own process of sifting through education reform we can teach our children how to doubt what is put in front us and question deeply the best route to take. We can give them the confidence to doubt, to stand up for what they believe to be right, even if that doubt flies in the face of power and authority.  Doubt and inquiry are not something to be taught in the classroom with an instruction manual. They are processes we simply have to make time for, allowing our children to discover, explore and doubt the way adults currently view and understand the human condition. This shouldn't feel like a threat to us. It is simply the inquiry of future generations as they graduate into the caretakers of the world.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Crime and Punishment

How do we help our children understand that they are in full control of their lives, free to make the choices that are best for them?  How do our children learn independence through our rules? Do our rules set them up to believe that there is always someone in charge and it isn't them?
I have been thinking about this throughout the week. In our house we use time outs as punishments. What I recently realized was that our kids often feel like victims. They feel, as I believe a lot of children do, as if I am imposing my rules on them. I am in charge and they need to do what I say. It quickly becomes rather dictatorial.
I have been uncomfortable with this set up the entire time I have been a parent and have tried less aggressive approaches, but they usually don't work. After six years of parenting, I am finally clear on how to handle crime and punishment.
Our children have their independence. They always have it. It doesn't have to be earned or gained when they are older. They are always free, but at a very young age they would be not be able to care for themselves. So we have to care for them, show them how to behave in society, show them how to care for others. But through this whole process they are free. We are simply facilitators of life lessons. So how do we use our rules to shape them, but not remove their freedom?  How do we punish without turning our children into victims?
As a parent I simply need to present them with the options available to at that moment. I'm the facilitator, not the dictator. They are are the choice maker, not the victim.
For example, my son has a friend over and they are being very  loud and enthusiastic about setting up a pretend lemonade stand. I have asked them several times to quiet down because the baby is sleeping.  The third time I speak with them I say,
"I know you are having fun, but I have asked you several times to quiet down because your baby brother is sleeping. When you were a baby we were quiet for you and let you rest. We need to do the same for him.  You can choose to be kind and loving and remember that he needs his sleep or you can choose to not be loving and kind towards him and be noisy. If you make the choice to keep being noisy, then your friend will have to go home."
If the friend is sent home and he is upset, I simply refer back to this conversation and remind him that I explained to him what was going to happen. He made the choice, not me.
When I explain it this way, he isn't the victim and I am not the dictator. He is independent of me. There is a healthy indifference and the choice isn't based on my rules. It is based on whether he chooses to demonstrate kindness towards his brother.  That is a choice that will mature over time and if he just isn't ready to make that choice right now, that is fine.  The friend will simply have to go home.
It takes the burden off of me to force him to be good. I don't have to! What transpires is a direct result of what he is capable of doing mentally and emotionally at that time. I simply have to carry out the actions I explained to him earlier. That's it.  I don't have to get angry. I don't have to feel bad. While he may become upset if his friend goes home, this strong emotional response only helps him realize the repercussions of his actions. That's a good thing! Perhaps he'll think more about what he is doing and dig deeper emotionally next time to try to show kindness towards his brother. I can even remind him of that if the issue arises again, but in the end it is up to him to make the choice that best suits him at that moment.
When all is said and done there is no good decision or bad decision, just learning and facilitating. That is our job as parents. Helping our kids feel empowered in life and free to make their choices is part of what we do. Our kids aren't victims of anything if we give them the power to choose otherwise.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What Does It Mean to "Provide"?

When we talk about providing for our children most of us think about food, shelter and clothing, but what else do we need to provide?
Our kids need more than the basics to survive. They look to parents as their first role model and teacher in life. What role model are we providing? When they get to school they look to their teachers as role models and purveyors of important information. What are we giving them?
Providing for our children means giving them a sense of value for human life, whether it be their own or someone else's.  When we become eclipsed with core standards, standardized tests and the introduction of too much technology into education, we loose track of the importance of the human-ness of raising a child.
Our children are not machines. They are not investments. They are not coming off an assembly line. They are not guinea pigs to be tested on. They are flesh and blood beings, with hearts that need nourishment and brains that need guidance.
How are we providing it?
My greatest goal as a parent is to inspire my children to feel confident and happy in their lives, no matter what they decide to do.  This means that every day I strive to lead a principled life, one that demonstrates value toward every member of my family and community. It means that when faced with difficult decisions, a bad day or a stressful situation, I have to remember that my actions influence them. In fact my reaction to life is a far more powerful influence than any reading, math or writing lesson they will ever receive.  The imprint of what I show them will last throughout their lives. It will effect their decision, their relationships and their success.
If we demonstrate to them that their value is based on test scores, percentiles and the number of friends they have on Facebook, they will be forever influenced in this direction. They will lead their lives in a such a way as to make these things their most important goals, their greatest accomplishments.  Is that what we want?  Is this going to be the kind of person that looks with compassion and care toward humanity, a person that looks to serve and care for others?
Providing an atmosphere of respect for human life, ideas, emotions and interactions is what will drive us successfully through the twenty-first century.  What are you providing today?