This is the last installment in the “Breaking Sticks” series inspired by my 2 year old son Adam.
“Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory” - Marcel Proust
All children are artists. They get excited by simple things. Whether playing with sticks, jumping on the bed, or engaging in some other “silly” activity they let go of all inhibitions and create magic. They do this, because they are not spoiled by societal norms that delineate “acceptable” behavior and what is deemed “age-appropriate.”
Why is “Forrest Gump” such an incredible and touching movie? I believe it is because it tells a story of how someone “stupid” was able to live an amazing life. What if we allow ourselves to look at Forrest’s life from a different perspective? Maybe he was actually smarter than all of us? He lived and did not apologize for how he lived. He experienced life as it came, not limited by subjective norms and habits of others. Forever, he remained a child and not just achieved, but in fact lived what eludes so many as they look for it endlessly - happiness.
Why and when do most adults lose this magical way of being? Is there a rule that forbids loving the little things in life when we grow up? Or being spontaneous? Why do we have to weigh a ton of pros and cons before running through a crowd of onlookers to jump into the Reflecting Pool to embrace our Jenny?
Proust spoke of "the deadening effect of habit.” And then, there are norms to live by or face ridicule. And then, there’s school that teaches those things. As children grow up, the innocence leaves and formal learning takes over. The parents and the educators become curators of their learning. We realize that can't play all the time and structure much of the learning. But it is important to keep perspective. We must not presume, but continually discover "what works" and balance work with "play." There is no one right way to do it, but the kids need to have input. They don't always know what's best for them, but adults need to recognize that we don't either.
There may be something to the stories of wildly successful individuals such as Anthony Hopkins or Richard Branson, who struggled in school. Today, they are widely considered as highly creative individuals. Perhaps they were not "spoiled" by the antiquated educational system, and this lack of influence allowed them to create their own unique brands. They resisted the system, which to this day promotes falling in line, being ordinary, and compliant with the "norm." They failed in the system that kills creativity and succeeded in life.
We must stop programming our kids. It starts with admitting to ourselves that to a lesser or greater extent we have been programmed by our parents, the educational system we went through, and the society we live in. This becomes painfully apparent in interactions between individuals from various upbringings, dissimilar cultures, opposing religions, or contrasting socioeconomic statuses. After we recognize that we are part of the matrix we can work on breaking out, however comfortable and familiar the chains have become. Finally, we must never allow them to be placed on our kids - children and students, or worse yet, apply the chains ourselves.
We must stimulate our students to use their imagination and creativity as much as possible. As they practice, they will become more innovative, better at problem solving, and more productive. The current “state of the system” promotes “falling in line.” And so, imagination gets sluggish. But to become powerful we need to train it like a muscle: encourage it, challenge it, and apply it to solving problems. This I believe, will prevent the mind apathy, the numbness that often results from the system-induced imagination atrophy.
I am not saying that the kids shouldn't have structure at all. I believe that some activities should, perhaps have to be structured. All I'm saying is that we should allow the kids, especially when they're young, to develop as much of their own structure, while exploring on their own, as possible. I am convinced that such an approach will be more effective in building structure and organization than if these things are handed down by adults, because the kids will have ownership of them.
So how do I keep this spirit of adventure in my son forever? How do I cultivate this perhaps naive, but honest with excitement outlook onto the world? How do I avoid the “This sucks dad!” teenage years? Can I? I’m not sure, but I know that I must let him play, not tell him how things are “supposed” to be done, and allow him to find his own way with as little interference as safety and reason allows.
It will be tough at times, as I’m sure protective instincts will awaken on more than one occasion, but I commit to it. I will always be there to love and support him. But I will also be there to let him fall, pick himself up, and tell him to keep on exploring: To Take The Path Less Traveled.
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