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Moving away from worry that our children are 'not normal' toward respecting their differences

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Two names in education worth knowing (and dropping):

Charlotte Mason

Some years ago, while figuring out my homeschooling rhythm, I read a lot of Charlotte Mason.

Mason was an educator at the end of the 19th century and if she had been a man, I’m sure her thoughts would have shaped much of what modern education looks like.

Many homeschoolers today base what they do and how they do it on Mason’s teaching, such as reading a lot of good literature, spending much time outdoors and intentionally developing an appreciation for art and music.

At the time I was curious about what Mason had to say about teaching kids through habits – I had no idea she would offer me so much more than curriculum ideas.

My approach to my kids changed with this simple idea:

Kids are not buckets to be filled with knowledge but whole people to be respected and learnt from.

As a teacher I would later step into my classroom and choose not to fill kids with curriculum like water from a hose, but instead introduce natural learners to ideas in ways that would engage them.

But teachers have big jobs.

Classes are filled to the brim with diverse learners who need to be ushered through gates and dates. Often the best of educators turn to the hose under time crunch and pressure for good results.

On the fringes of these classrooms, the Wonderfully Wired kids are sputtering under the hose of content or just disengaging because of the discomfort. The more teachers and parents worry that kids are not going to ‘make it’ on the expected timeline, the more we turn up the water pressure and the worse the sputtering.

Can we be any more disrespectful and less effective?

I believe we need

  • More respect for children and their developmental timelines and

  • more humility in how we ‘assess them’ along the way.

“When we’re fighting who our child is, we can’t implicitly support them.” says Debbie Reber,( my guest on the Wonderfully Wired Podcast this month). “Anytime we wish our child were ‘normal’, we are not only fighting reality, but contributing to that outdated paradigm by making difference a ‘bad thing.’”

We can do a great deal of damage to our children in a misinformed attempt to make them better adjusted, more successful at school and more ‘normal’.

Whatever that is.

What Debbie asks, challenges how much you and I respect our children:

Do we watch them and learn to speak their language and thereby support them to thrive, or do we care more about making them comply and succeed in a context that might not be serving them?

But there is a bigger question too:

What if the ways our kids don’t fit the mold might be the very thing the world needs most and by listening and adjusting our response to their needs they may change the world?

Which brings me to another name in education: Ken Robinson

In 2006 Robinson gave a TED talk that is one of the most watched in the history of TED. Robinson urged us to rethink what intelligence is, arguing that traditional education which deems certain abilities more important than others ‘isn’t going to serve the future.

He called instead for creativity in education, which he defined as ‘original ideas of value’.

Robinson described how in the 30 years after his talk (we are already almost 20 in) more people would have gone through the school system than in all of history! This means that what used to mean guarantee of a good job two generations ago, (a degree and good academic results), may mean nothing to the predicted thousands of over-educated, unemployable young people.

The analytical, word based, sit-still-and-focus kind of education of the last hundred years has come to the end of its value.

Then Robinson said something I think Mason would have liked: “Our only hope for the future is to rethink our ideas of human capacity and see our kids for the hope that they are.”

It’s what Debbie asks too: Do we look at Wonderfully Wired kids as puzzles to solve and challenges to fix or do we see them as the HOPE for an unknown future?

Parents (and invested teachers) read blogs like this one because we worry - will our kids make it? Will they fit in, learn, pass? What if we rather look at them as the custodians of the future, with rich capacities to innovate and shape that future if only we would stop squeezing differences out of them.

“Our job,” Robinson continues, “is to educate their whole being so they can face the future. We can’t see the future but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.“

I think we do that, not by making them ‘normal’, nor filling them with all the thoughts, ideas and skills that have been important in the past, but by respecting their person and cultivating their ways of seeing and thinking.

Perhaps only this bold faith in who our children are, will prevent us from damaging our children despite our intention to help them cope.

Three things you can do next:

  1. Watch Robinson’s TED talk here and be inspired

  2. Catch the episode of the Wonderfully Wired podcast with Debbie Reber here for more reasons to TILT the way you think.

  3. Watch the ReadbyElle books summary of Debbie’s book here to see if the time spent reading the book is what will best serve your parenting at the moment.

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