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. The school environment breeds fear, distrust, conformity, obedience, competition, self-loathing, cliques and bullying, everything one would expect in a prison environment.

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. If a child must be drugged in order to function in the system, the problem is not the child. The occasional teacher that resists the system is like the kindly prison guard at Auschwitz. They see that what’s happening is wrong, but the system goes on in spite of them. And when they resist it they put themselves in extreme risk. How can it be otherwise. 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

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Who Can Hear The Music?

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“The young person who is alone on the seashore or in the forest and hears music; those people who have the knowledge that the music must be followed- must stay with it. I’m sure that in our world, where emphasis is put on success, the song is heard and forgotten.” Joseph Campbell

Having a good ear is essential to any musician. It’s what separates exceptional musicians  from amateurs. Intuition plays a big part, as well as acute awareness to sound, pitch and tone. It’s this same kind of awareness that were tapping into when were following our bliss. Were being sensitive to what moves us, much like the many musicians that felt the call at some point in their life. A spark was ignited, and from that day forward they were hooked.

Our family is a musical one. My husband plays the piano and violin. Both of our children play too-the youngest plays the violin and ukulele, the oldest plays guitar, ukulele and is a classically trained singer. They do it for the love of it- it’s in their DNA. The hours spent practicing scales and repertoire without any acknowledgement or fame doesn’t matter. They are playing, not for the admiration, but for the will inside them to be better for themselves. I’ve witnessed during their practice when time stops, that they’re in a kind of trance like zone, creating their beautiful music. The bliss experienced when studying their craft can’t be put into words.

I use the music analogy because it’s a powerful one. When we think about success we often don’t associate the idea with happiness. In our culture it’s become two separate entities. Something like, you’re only happy until you’ve reached some level of success. Only then when you’ve become what our society deems successful, are you happy. This is where we’ve got it wrong. Instead of pushing and prodding our children to “play it safe”, get good grades, get into college, do something because of the money “success”-we could and should be fostering the idea of following the music in ones heart- the passions and desires that don’t care about the money, that don’t worry about what they might be, that aren’t wrapped up in the trappings societies have placed on us.

I’ve often said that the world needs all kinds of people. We need, more than ever, children brought up to value their own worth, trusting in who they are as individuals, exploring what their life might look like when they “follow their music”.

This is a beautiful quote by David W. Orr,

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

It’s a shift in consciousness. Everyday we hear the perils of our planet and our humanity. I can imagine a world where people turn inward, and re-evaluate their role in society, their importance on future generations. How we raise our children now will influence tomorrows great leaders and thinkers. The growing dissatisfaction in education for many young people is coming to a crossroads. Many students feel trapped in a school system that does little to support them and their engagement to the work being done is extremely low. It has little relevance to them. They can’t hear the music…

“The worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival – the issues now looming so large before us in the twenty-first century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us.” -David W. Orr

Some of the most “successful” people I’ve met are those who have given an extraordinary amount of time and effort to creating a world that has harmony, personal freedom, time to do things they enjoy,  high integrity, a deep sense of purpose and above all, humility.

So what are we to do?

What dreams and wishes could we all fulfill if we never abandon the music? What if we never betray our deep seated passions and truth? What if we re-evaluated everything we knew and were told and taught about success? Would we be happier? I believe we would. My role as a parent is to be a supporter of dreams, and encourage my children to make their own meaning in life. The change happens only when we re-educate our hearts and minds and make something that matters… more than mere success.

 

 

Self-Directed Learning and Mastery

Our family watched this great lecture given by Robert Greene at Oxford University. Robert Greene is a historian of sorts- he’s written several books, a couple which I have are Mastery and the 48 Laws of Power. He gives us a look at three individuals who, through their own self direction went on to accomplish many great things in their lifetime. They were Leonardo DaVinci (developed sophisticated flying machines, detailed navigation equipment, etc), Charles Darwin (discovered the Theory of Evolution) and John Coltrane (one of the finest self taught jazz saxophonists).

The dictionary’s definition of mastery is a “comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.” I find this particularly interesting because through self-directed learning, one has substantial time and autonomy to pursue one’s interests in a deep and meaningful way. One is allowed, without permission, to follow their own desires and curiosities.

Philip and I have conversations about self-directed learning- it helps us gain clarity and validates our position that it allows a child to develop their talents, allows them the time to discover things about themselves, gives them the confidence that it is their path, not a pre-packaged path.

Self-directed learning looks very different from traditional schooling- we don’t cover several subjects everyday, we don’t have a set schedule, we don’t test them and we don’t assign a grade. What we do is sit down and talk to them. We ask questions to stimulate conversation. We find out what makes them excited- we tailor their activities to support their interests. Then we engage them in these areas. We support their curiosity. Much of our learning happens simply by talking in conversation. What often ends up happening is the initial conversation will lead to another conversation. It all happens rather organically.

Our youngest daughter Natalie asked us if she could play the violin. She was eight years old. She did a six week beginner class with her teacher and has continued to excel at the violin for the last two and a half years.  She has great musical mentors who inspire and push when there is a challenging piece of music, but for the most part, Natalie pushes herself, she thrives on challenge.

We see our kids staying naturally focused on what drives them, what excites them (without coercion from us). I sadly feel that traditional schooling does not allow for the kind of depth that allows one to truly master anything. I know when Olivia was in public high school last year she felt she could barely keep up with the pace- there were too many subjects to fully grasp the content and little allowance for individuality or creative expression of ideas. Yet, teachers expect the equivalent of mastery, an A. It’s not the teachers fault, they are just doing what they’re told. It’s a corporate and conformist model of thinking and we need to find a better way for our children. If you look at education like a company, one that produced poor results continually (in this case decades), they would be out of business. So why hasn’t change come to traditional schooling? That’s another topic for another day…

From my own experience, when children are allowed to follow their own path of discovery they are on their way to mastery. I see it happening in my own kids. They will continue on their path, and this path may continually change, but it’s their path. I simply have to show them love and enable them a safe place to explore and grow. Ultimately, they will grow into young adults with the confidence that they have made their own choices and decisions about their life.

Mastery in an area is a journey of discovering oneself and self-directed learning is no different. Allowing this natural process only deepens understanding and therefore allows us to follow our own path. I often say, the world takes all kinds of people, and to grow as people we need to be who we are.