Wildflowers Are Great Teachers

cows in snow

We set out early this morning and traveled to Borrego Springs desert to hopefully witness the native wildflowers of the region. With an abundance of precipitation this winter, were expecting another amazing superbloom this year.

We started out on our nearly 90 mile drive to the desert. We experienced things along the way we couldn’t have anticipated. Snow had blanketed a stretch of land the night before. It was so beautiful. It was like a picture snapshot of an idyllic scene and it was ours. We passed a group of cows in the snow, happily munching away; oblivious to our high pitched “oohs, and ahhs” as we clicked a few pictures. We continued on the road towards the desert.

The best part of the trip was the time we spent conversing, laughing, telling each other about silly videos and sometimes, just enjoying the silence in rural country. I think it’s in these, although brief moments in our busy and distracted lives where the “being” of business and distraction melt away. They have no place in the moment. We were free of any trappings on our drive. In my experience, the simple things matter most. We discover what is important, honest and worthy of us.

Sadly, we didn’t find endless hills of wildflowers, or perfect photo opportunities, but we did experience something else. For us today, what mattered, was taking a drive and being together. My husband commented to me today how quickly our kids are growing up. They change everyday, every hour. It’s true. You blink and they’ve changed.

Attention and time. I think that’s what people crave as humans. Everyone wants to be heard and understood. In a period in our cultural history when technology rules our every waking life, where the aim is to be continuously “productive,” a simple drive to find native wildflowers puts life in a whole different perspective.

Children Changing The World

Greta
via The Guardian

 

Our children are the future. We live in a precarious time in history. We see the man- made and often destructive contributions being made to our humanity at large. We feel a deep unhappiness anytime we put on the news. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and yet, we place the burdens of the world on the shoulders of children to carry-climate change, greed, war, hate, division and a broken system of education. They want more to look forward to in their future. There will be many who think “that’s not my problem.”

 

But it is. We are all responsible.

 

Children should be celebrating the pleasures of their childhood without a care in the world. Instead, we leave them to fix what we’ve broken. We often discount them, due to their age and life experience in the world as inferior to our own. But this simply isn’t true.

I think children feel more and are more attuned to their feelings than we adults. They see the wrongs being inflicted upon them and want to help be the change. Their compassion runs deep.

Neill Strauss once said, “We are taught to focus on success, accomplishment, and accumulating memories and experiences in our lifetime. But what we’re actually building is the thing we focus on the least: our character. That’s what most of us will get to keep the longest. And perhaps what’s more important.

Our character is our foundation. When walls crumble around us, it’s what’s left in the rubble. I have hope for the future when I see the character of children acting in humble and positive ways for the betterment of their world. Children have been rising up to address issues important to them more and more in recent years. Were at a tipping-point of change. We see their resilience and their strength and we must help them.

I believe in our children’s future. We all have a duty to them. They did not ask for this mighty responsibility but are willing to take the reins in spite of us. I find that to be a true testament to the character of young people today. I am optimistic in feeling to live in a world where young people like Greta Thunberg, a fifteen year old Swedish student, has the strong will to act and see to it that their future doesn’t just fall by the wayside. It’s this strong will to do something that will save us. Sadly, it’s usually the first thing to get “squashed” out of us in childhood. In small ways, were tempered to become obedient and compliant. It begins in our early education.

The narratives around education are nothing new. We’ve been debating the “effectiveness” of school for a very long time. It seems, we’re divided on the subject. What does it mean to be successful in school? What does well-educated mean? The objective in asking this question is to be direct. Should it be the goal of every student to sacrifice their interests to learning random facts? Should it be the goal of every student to conform and become obedient to authority, without questioning why? Should we be teaching them to be passive and tolerant to tedium for meager rewards? What if a child’s idea of self-education is in saving the world? How can we deny them of their will in the interest to do just that?

When a child is motivated to do something, we need get out of their way and let them. Children want to live with a purpose. When we see young people like Greta saying to those in power, “Hey, I’m the one who has to live in the future, I am a voice in my generation, and we will work for things we believe in that are of utmost importance- like saving the planet and addressing crucial issues in our lifetime right now.” We should listen.

I see a great need in supporting children to resist the modern schooling and standardization of individuals, as we see it today, and do away with the idea that young people can’t possibly change the world. They’re doing it now. I see the future in very good hands.

 

The Price Of A Life

 

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

Henry David Thoreau

Earlier today I read a post a friend had shared on Facebook about a sixteen year old in Orange County committing suicide last weekend. Notes the child left revealed pressure from school had led them to take their life. Is this child alone in feeling this way? How many more kids go unseen and unnoticed? How many stress and anxiety disorders don’t make the news. How many others don’t even get noticed by parents? As a parent, this rattles me to my core. I can’t imagine the unspeakable anguish the parents must feel right now. A child lost forever.

School today subjects many kids to unreasonable pressure. It sabotages family life. It robs them of creativity and imagination. It robs them of time for personal interests or to simply to be with their own thoughts.

The pressure is becoming worse every year. We’re seduced into thinking that if our kids just work harder, get smarter, improve their GPA, get into a better college and become prosperous that it will all lead to a happy, satisfying life. Scratch away the pretty exterior and you’ll find kids that are exhausted, bored and lost. Perhaps even suicidal.

As I type the words “school makes me feel” into Google the top three suggestions that appear are stupid, empty and sad. One of the top reasons for kids to be brought to a family counselor is anxiety related to school. The symptoms show up in many ways from insomnia, eating disorders, loss of interest, anxiety, depression, physical complaints, fatigue, social isolation and self harm to behavioral problems, anger and destructiveness. It’s often the brightest children who are most sensitive to the wrong that’s being perpetrated on them. They often lack the maturity to understand and articulate their feelings so it shows up in the form of behavior problems.

When did we stop valuing “well being” over grades?

When education is focused on grades and competitiveness, children can’t help but feel enormous distress. Kids who come home with stellar grades and honor roll receive praise. We puff them up to believe that this was the desired result of all their “hard work.” What were really imposing is our own expectation. It’s an enormous burden to carry.

Regardless of any well meaning reassurance from parents or teachers, a child’s self worth is highly impacted by grades. In school, the child becomes less human and is regarded more as a factory product that is subjected to a quality control system of testing and grading. “Grades” may be more appropriate for beef than children. The declining mental health of many children is direct related to school. After all, school tout their number of “college bound” students as a major marker of the quality of their education. There is no measure for the number of physically and emotionally healthy adults that result from their education.

The amount of homework is only one of many systemic problems. Grade school kids come home with nightly homework that approaches 2-3 hours as they get into middle and high school. Even an adult with good paying job would resent coming home to an additional 2 to 3 hours of work at night. It disrupts sleep, family life and our kids mental health. For many parents the bulk of their relationship with their child involves badgering their child to do their homework and dolling out various rewards, threats and punishments if they don’t. Parenting has been reduced to playing the role of deputy for the school system.

Why are so many parents willing to sacrifice their children to a toxic and dehumanizing system?

According to research professor, Dr. Peter Gray, Ph.D “Because of increased uncertainty about future employment, parents worry about their childrens’ abilities to make a living more then they did in times past, and this contributes to their increased tendency to view childhood as a time of resume building. Somehow, parents believe, if they can get their children to achieve high scores on tests, and get them into the most prestigious schools, they can protect their children’s future. They are wrong, of course, but the perception persists. They become convinced by the rhetoric that their children will fail at life if they don’t get high grades and get into a good college. Parents are expected to play the role at home that teachers play at school, pushing and prodding their children to do the things the school system has decided they must do.”

When faced with low scores on academic achievement tests the knee jerk reaction is to argue for more longer hours and more homework. In Japan for example, students perform as well as their Korean peers at math despite a drastically shorter school day. In high-scoring countries like Finland and the Netherlands, the focus is on highly individualized support for students. What kids want is to feel like they have a say in their learning. We don’t give them that. Children need less school, less homework and less pressure.

For twelve years we do what were told, we comply and follow the rules. Some will argue that they themselves did it and turned out okay. But you don’t have to think too deeply to see the fallacy in that argument.

So can we stop placing pressure on our kids? It’s damaging them. For some, like this child that thought the only way to end their pain was to commit the worse kind of infliction, I offer you this…

You mean more than your grades. You are worthy of life. We need you here to do great things. You are a special person that has much to offer the world. There are many who love and care for you. If you are struggling with suicidal feelings, please reach out to someone.

If you’re a child, and unhappy about the demands placed on you in school, do something about it. Demand your family time back. Insist on no homework. Involve other students, be a voice for the masses. There can be no system without you. It cannot exist without you. Educate yourself. Find mentors and people that will support YOUR DREAMS. Commit to something worthwhile. It’s your life.

If you’re a parent that places unnecessary pressure to compete in school, please stop. The education you think your child is receiving has little to no relevance to the future world. To see what school is really for, watch the brilliant TedxYouth talk given by Seth Godin here.

This game is not worth playing anymore.


Letters from Patrick Turner

SuicideSuicide 1Suicide 2