Raising participants

One of the arguments I hear for keeping kids in traditional school programs, even when those programs are not working, is that if you “let” kids focus on what they’re interested in and already good at, they’ll become too self-centered and involved in their own thing.  They won’t learn to be of service.  They won’t learn to think of others. They won’t be good citizens.  Also, I hear adults say, kids are already too self-involved thanks to social media; supporting their interests will only make it worse.

What’s missing from this argument is the acknowledgment that we’ve put kids in the position of having to defend their interests, to protect what matters to them from what we’d have them do instead.  By demanding that they spend most of their time on what we choose, we intensify their self-involvement.

What actually happens when you make room for someone (of any age) to pursue what suits them is that they are free to discover the ways in which they’re uniquely qualified to contribute.  If kids are not busy fighting for the right and time to build forts, for example, they might eventually find that they have what it takes to make important advances in efficient building design.  If they’re not busy fighting for the right and the time to figure out how to use the video camera, they might end up making documentaries that lead to profound social change.  If they’re not busy fighting for the right and time to be outdoors, they might think of new ways to preserve and protect the environment.  If they’re not busy fighting for the right not to do certain things (traditional academic subject areas tend to be good examples of this), they might end up pursuing any number of things that are helpful, edifying, contributory.  If they’re not busy fighting, they’re available to participate appropriately and fully. We have no idea what potential kids actually hold.  We’re too busy with the power struggles that keep their potential hidden.

Too much of kids’ energy is allotted to protecting and defending what makes them unique (because it’s in conflict with something an adult thinks is more important). If you let kids really take on whatever it is they know they are uniquely qualified for, their eagerness to participate and contribute can make itself known.

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