Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Case for Summer Vacation

While stuck in a supermarket lineup recently, I noticed the cover of Time Magazine which featured an article about how summer vacation was bad for kids as they tend to "lose" their year's learning. This article is my own personal response.

The Case For Summer Vacation

First of all, I would like to examine some of the assumptions the article blurb seems to make:
1. School/academic learning is superior to other experiences and kinds of learning
2. Children need to achieve academic success in a predictable, steady manner
3. Summer vacation time is wasted time
4. Children do not need time to "recharge their batteries"
5. Unstructured play is not a valuable and necessary component to child development
6. That politicians, parents and other influential adults know better what kids need to learn
7. That children should be subjected to political and corporate agendas to an even greater degree
8. That homework, busy work, form-filling, following rules without question and having the right answers are what we want to call "learning"

I could go on and list all sorts of studies that contradict the essence of these assumptions, but I will spare us all that agony. If you are interested, you are welcome to do your own research.

Think about this: how many parents are concerned about the serious learning deficits of our children regarding the natural world? Surely a lack of familiarity with the local flora and fauna all around us should be a huge concern for all of us. Some elementary kids cannot even identify 10 different local native species--flora or fauna, or (perhaps more importantly) explain on a very basic level how their local ecosystem works. They do not get outdoors, experience fresh air and sunshine, play freely with other children without adult intervention, or explore the natural world. These lessons cannot be replaced by standardized classroom "learning".

As it is, we tend to jail our children in institutions at a young age, force them to learn/memorize/regurgitate curriculum that is determined more by politics and convenience than by valid research, and deny them their own personal creativity and joy for learning. We create a one-sized-fits-all assembly line system of "education" that is easily measured, but only serves to create a zombie-like population at best. We compare them to others based on narrow scales of standardized tests and consider them to be "behind" or whatever label is in vogue if they do not completely conform to the "average" that is expected. We hold back the creative, the bright, the imaginative and we marginalize those who might do better. We presume abilities and are quick to pidgeon-hole students in an attempt to make them conform to our standardized expectations. We bore the bright and we bore the challenged.

I've heard parents whose children attend school groan about summer (or winter, March break, etc.) vacation because they don't know how to "keep their kids busy". They are afraid of letting their kids experience boredom. "Keeping them busy keeps them out of trouble" is the popular mantra of the day. This isn't strictly true--some kids will make trouble despite where their carpool takes them. It does restrict their freedom, all in the name of lazy parenting.

Some might find that offensive, but working hard to spend money so your child's world can be completely structured is much less work and takes much less emotional and psychic energy than becoming a role model, mentor and guide to help your children develop their own set of values and ethics. And when they turn 18, we let those who haven't had that opportunity loose on society, having not had the chance to mature properly. Or they realize that they aren't ready to make their own decisions, having had little or no opportunity to develop such life skills, so they live with mom and dad a little longer, or go to university or college where they take courses paid for by the parents, chosen by the parents, in dorms where their meals are prepared and their bedding changed for them, coming home on weekends so mom (or dad, but let's not kids ourselves too much here!) can wash their laundry.

We keep our kids from flying when we constantly clip their wings.

I would argue that kids need time to take charge of themselves and their time, to learn how to structure (or not structure) their own time, to amuse themselves, to test out their own interests, creativity, and values. They need freedom in order to grow. This freedom includes the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, to try out their own ideas, find out who they are and what brings them joy. Kids need freedom in order to learn how to think for themselves and develop good judgement. We need to remove our own magnet from their moral compasses and let them learn to find their way. We need to guide them and support them without smothering or controlling them. We need to respect their individuality so they can become their own people. These are not likely to happen easily for the child who spends 5-6 hours in school, several hours in daycare/extra curricular programs, weekends in further structured environments, and now summers full of either structure, or the other parental pitfall, video games and other "screen time".

When kids are always told what to do, when to do it, what to think and how to rate themselves against others on a numerical scale, when the media is welcomed into the home to take the place of personal interaction--when these things become the mainstream norm, as they certainly are now, this is the time to push back and work to reclaim the rights of our children.

They deserve better--we all do.

I will leave you with some very interesting related links

Valedictory address by Erica Goldson

What you really need to know

How finding your passion changes everything

What are your life goals? Maybe you're already there

Monday, 2 August 2010

What do you stand for?

I've been having some important conversations with my eldest son over the past two days.
To summarize, I've been asking him to try and sort out what is most important to him--what values define who he is.

Admittedly, this is pretty tough stuff. Many adults I know would be hard pressed to answer. Yet, when it comes down to it, knowing who you are can help define your actions and reactions and even possibly the path you take in life. It can be a comfort, and provide a sense of constancy when the world around you becomes unpredictable. A strong sense of self can help you ride out whatever life throws at you.

Where did the conversation start?

I was surprised to hear him mention making some choices that, while fairly "mainstream" do not match those ideals I tried to impart on him. Impart on him...those words don't sound so great to a mom who believes that kids need to learn to make their own decisions and develop their own judgement. Yes, I will admit that I took this quite personally, and that I had to work hard to step back and find out more. Did he not agree? Were these ideals not his ideals? Is this a moment in which he is experimenting to find out what his own personal values might be, or has he outright rejected these values for himself? How do I know when to let go and let him act for himself? Where do I draw the line when he's busy figuring out where to draw his own lines? How do I know the difference between the effects of peer pressure and the development of his own personal value system? How does he know the difference?

Then he mentioned trying to hide behaviours (in this case, vegetarianism) that others had ridiculed him for. So we discussed it on two levels--did he want to continue to be a vegetarian himself? And, either way, did the others have a right to judge him for it? Were they seeking more information, or were they behaving hurtfully? Just as others have a right to religious and political freedom, he also has a right to his own personal value system. But in order to know how to respond, he will need to know where he stands--what does he himself believe to be his highest ideals?

It can be tough when one's own value system doesn't follow the mainstream. People often find differences personally threatening. Yet, by learning about the options, world views, background, etc.--the reasons--these encounters can become an opportunity for growth, or at the very least, tolerance and understanding.

Acquiescence in order to avoid conflict, "fit in", or just avoid offending others robs people of these opportunities. And yet, people often respond unfavourably, sometimes threateningly, to anything that is remotely different. Explanations can fall on deaf and stubborn ears. All we can do is remain true to ourselves, but it is important that we do remain true to ourselves! Each time we fail to stand strong (such as repeating "this is true for me" or "this is what I believe" etc.), we lose a little self respect.

So it is important to know what you stand for, and to remind yourself of this often, letting your words and actions reflect your strongly held convictions, while listening to and respecting those of others.

I hope he understands.