Thursday, March 5, 2015

The "Future" Trap

We have a painting smock for kids at our house.  It is very useful for keeping paint off of clothes.  It is made of plastic, ties around the neck and under the arms, and covers both the front and the back.  It's saved countless outfits in its time.
Lily's masterpiece
The only problem I have with it is that it says "Future Artist" on the front.  So, at what point will Lily become a "Present Artist?"  I would argue that she already is one.  And was one even at 3, when this picture was taken.  She's also a musician, an athlete, a writer, and many other things.

Kids have it rough in some ways.  Rory is 12 years old and feels like he's in limbo.  He can't wait to get older, because he feels like he'll finally be "something."  He talks all the time about what he wants to do when he grows up.  He sees himself as having no real life until he is old enough to get a job.
Rory and some of his plants
In some ways, he's right.  Our society puts very little importance on what children do or think.  They are expected to go through the motions as a group until they are old enough to think for themselves.  But at what age does this happen?  Is there some magical time when we have all the answers and can run our own lives without help?  Should there be?

In my state, school is compulsory until age 16.  Most kids attend until 18, when they graduate from high school.  They are permitted to go to public school until the year they turn 21 if they don't graduate before then.  So, according to state law, kids are able to run their own lives somewhere between the ages of 16 and 21.  Until then, someone else knows what's best for them.  After that, they're on their own.

Part of going to school involves learning whatever the school thinks you should learn exactly when the school thinks you should learn it.  To look at it in a simplified way, someone decided what people need to learn and divided it up into 13 years of school, portioning out the instruction so that it all gets done in a logical sequence and also takes the whole 13 years.  Of course, it used to be 12, as kindergarten was more like preschool is now.  And people are trying to make it 14 by making preschool mandatory, at which point I suppose they will start teaching the current kindergarten curriculum to the four-year-olds.

I have to wonder whether constantly being told what to do and when to do it is best for kids.  I don't mean to say that children know as much as adults or shouldn't ever be instructed in anything, but I can't imagine that every kid in America needs to know the same things by the same time, or that they all take the same amount of time to learn it. 

Benjamin Franklin attended grammar school for 2 years starting at age 8, was an apprentice typesetter for a newspaper at age 12, and left his hometown of Boston on his own at age 17 to go to Philadelphia and become an independent printer.  Thomas Edison started school at age 8, and attended for three months before his mother withdrew him because his teacher thought he was "addled."  He spent time at home experimenting until age 12 when he got a job selling food to train passengers.  He spent the money on more materials for his experiments.

Where would we be if Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison had been forced to spend 12 - 14 years sitting in classrooms during the day and playing organized sports and doing homework until bedtime?  Is all of this age-graded, scope-and-sequence organized, planned-out-to-the-minute instruction necessary?  What if our kids are being forced to wait for life to start, when they have ideas that would make a difference now?  What if, instead of learning who they are and what they can do, they are learning to compare themselves to each other?  What if they are learning to follow instructions given by authority figures without having the opportunity to learn how to think for themselves?  What if the revolutionists and inventors of our time are being dumbed-down to function with all the other cogs in the wheel?

Our society tends to treat children as if they are empty, and we have to put in the right ingredients to make them "right."  But what if children are already full?  What if they are born ready to learn and we just have to make sure that they are given the opportunity?  What if they are all gifted in their own ways, and will learn what they need to know in their own time?  What if some of them take 2 years and others take 20?  What if some are ready to learn something at age 4 and others at age 10?  What if they are not "future" anythings, but are already the people they are destined to be inside?  They may need more experience or more information, but how can anyone know exactly which experiences and information someone else will need?  What if children, and adults for that matter, were given tools to find these things out for themselves, rather than being fed the things that other people think they need to know?  And what if they were able to share the things that they were passionate about with others who were interested in what they had to say?  Not as "future" teachers, but as people who are useful members of society right now?

What if no-one has a point where they begin learning, or a point where they end?  What if life is a constant process of learning and growing, from the time we are born until the time we die?  What if?


  1. Life *is* a constant process of learning and growing, from the time we are born until the time we die! Beautifully said!

    1. Thanks Vicki! See, I am still learning too! I'm so grateful to have friends who help me along the way.


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