The trees in our front yard are raining leaves, swayed by the same gentle breeze that has been peeling off grey clouds from the hills that are now draped in a bright October sky. You cannot take this kind of beauty for granted.
I called the boys to witness the sight this morning. Fresh out of warm beds, pitter-pattering bare feet on the wooden floors, eyes and souls pried open by the carnival of nature. It’s Friday, a long weekend begins today and that is reason for celebration: among others, school is out until Tuesday. This year, the fall comes with changes we’ve been anticipating for a while but had yet to address: We are on the brink of homeschooling, at least part-time for now, unless the school deems such liberal approach unrealistic, in which case it becomes a full-time adventure. Conventional schooling has been creating a few ripples for a while now, and the reasons are as complex as they are puzzling.
It’s not academic challenges that have led us to where we are today but the opposite, and the negativity that sprouts from being immersed in a system that allows for wings to be clipped, thus preventing children to think for themselves instead of encouraging them to do so, and welcoming the challenge that can only lead to minds that will keep expanding. The world today requires thinkers more than ever; people who will challenge established, convenient views not for the purpose of being different but because they see occasional wrongness and are able to envision better outcomes through revisiting and reshaping concepts. That is a tall order.
I believe every independent, critical thinker starts with a baby dropping an object and delighting in being able to do it again and again (hopefully, if adults will allow) until one day the baby becomes the child asking why the object falls instead of floating and thus beginning the amazing journey of discovering the world. The question is: how do we make curiosity grow into creativity and critical thinking? Rules are different than boundaries, and rules that have no other explanation than ‘because I/we said so’ or ‘because that’s how it’s always been’ will work against everything that the human spirit is born to live up to.
I have, over the summer, witnessed my boys delving into what interests them without any reservations, waking up every day ready to create, play, read, run around, and share their joy of seeing the world and learning about it through the unique lenses each of us is born with. It’s easy to become addicted to that twinkle of joy in their eyes. Curiosity just ate a big portion of what will make my appetite for learning grow even bigger, they seemed to say.
On the other hand, I have witnessed morning grumpiness, frustration, moans and complains associated with going to school. Why is that? Many reasons that have, for a while, made me question whether my sons are seeing the world through negative lenses. Raised to trust a system that promises to address my children’s academic needs and help develop social skills and help them thrive, I ended up doubting it greatly and feeling as if I was failing my sons by not listening carefully to how they saw it all. While my youngest is still shielded from some of it, my oldest’s lists of complains has been growing steadily: Boredom, lack of challenging subjects, repetition of already learned topics, gratuitous forbidding of what one could call ‘normal children’s play’ by supervision aids who seem to forget that children need to feel welcome and safe rather than incarcerated in the space dedicated to learning of life skills, authority figures that fail, sadly, to grow into appropriate role models because the way they approach teaching and disciplining intimidate children, rather than motivate them to do better and learn more.
Six hours a day should cover enough interesting material to make the mind soar. Instead, it leaves my oldest say it is more of a daycare than he would ever want it to be. A few interesting topics covered do not make up for the ones that are either not challenging enough or downright insulting towards children that can and should be trusted with so much more. The problem is not all are at a level that allows for more challenging material, I am told by teachers. Many higher grade students struggle with basic things and that has to be addressed. I believe both teachers and students are double-crossed by a system that does not see the forest for the trees. It is not the teachers’ fault that children are not up to par, and if I am correct, we are witnessing the degradation of a learning system that has become children-led but not in a constructive way. Children need boundaries and guidance, rather than praise and complacency. They need to be presented topics that will pique their interests whatever those interests turn out to be, rendering them wide-eyed and ready to jump in with questions and delightful ideas to build further thinking avenues from then on. If a child falls into lack of interest and boredom or downright hates school, it’s not the child’s fault, or the teachers or the parents’, but the system that prevents all of them to move freely and understand that every child is born with a mind ready to learn and create and should be fully encouraged and nourished to do so.
A taste of added challenge is only for the gifted ones though, which, I am told, my oldest son is. I’ve never believed in that concept. I believe both my sons are creative in their own special way, just like every child is. As for gifted, the greatest gift of all, which is life, has been given to all of us. Beyond that, it’s up to them to build a path showing what they are interested in and it’s up to us adults to help their creativity and love of learning grow; through discussions about what they see, what they learn and through debates on topics that go beyond political correctness and ‘thou shall not’. I do believe that, given enough attention but also room to explore and find their interests, all kids have to potential to thrive.
Fall days ahead will be bringing sunshine and cloudiness, blue skies and grey, just like many hours of pondering over this complex matter will bring arguments that will help solidify our decision. Our decision, not mine or my sons’ alone, but ours as a family, ours as people who hold themselves accountable to each other, and keep together, knowing what we stand for and honouring the amazing gift we’ve been entrusted with: life.
It should go up from here, bumps in the road notwithstanding.
To be continued…