“Learning is change”
I love that statement. I love that it’s true. Learning changes everything. It changes your day, your perspective, your stance, your biases, your vision of the future. It erases the limits of your worldview.
Learning is change, and it’s what we’re here on this earth to do. What else could possibly be the point of all this?
Every situation, every connection, every moment that we live and breathe and exist on this earth is an opportunity for learning. Shit…just thinking about it makes my head spin. What an incredible gift! The unfortunate part is most people are too caught up in the daily drama to recognize the opportunities as they come along. We’re just too damn busy to see them.
We’ve got to give ourselves time to think. We’ve got to give ourselves room to breathe.
We’ve got to carve out the space we need to let ourselves sit with those moments and dig into the learning.
If life is smothering you, make a change. If you feel trapped, start looking for a way out. If you feel miserable at your job, look for another one. If you feel neglected or used by your friends, find a new group.
Humans are not meant to stand still. Our lives shouldn’t be stagnant. We shouldn’t be barely brushing up against the limits of our potential–we should be busting through the barriers every chance we get, constantly questioning what we know (what we think we know), actively seeking opportunities to learn and grow and evolve.
Humans have limitless potential. Look at all we’ve done. Look at how far we’ve come, the amazing things we can already do. This is only the beginning. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of our potential. If we could stop fighting with each other, even for a moment, we would be utterly astounded by the things we could do.
My God, there is so much more than this. If we could just get out of our own way.
So it has to start small. It starts with you–one day, one decision, one person, one learning moment, one change at a time.
So this story ran in the New York Times in January: Students Learn From People They Love
I don’t believe it’s just coincidence that this story ran just two days after one of my favorite humans in the world (my mentor and former English Professor Dr. Mandana Nakhai) was honored for her service and her unparalleled dedication as an educator and administrator at Concordia College – New York. I like to think the universe has a way of connecting things like that.
I bookmarked this article. Printed it. And I’ve probably read it at least a half dozen times in the past month. I like the way it makes me think about all of the amazing teachers I’ve had in my life, the way it brings back the memories of what it felt like to sit in their classrooms.
The best teachers don’t charge ahead and clear the path for you, and they don’t take a seat on the sideline and lost sight of you when you stray. The best teachers are the ones who take the journey with you and walk the path alongside you. They are the ones who take the time to explain the unfamiliar road signs and delight in the fact that they get to continue learning something new along the way. And when you come upon a door that leads to a brand new opportunity, the best teachers will squeeze your hands and smile and remind you that you have everything you need to unlock the door and walk on through.
When I think back to all the moments and the choices and the people who got me where I am today, there is no denying that it was the emotional connection that really made all the difference. I couldn’t have learned unless I felt safe and supported in the classroom. I wouldn’t have gone onto college without the elementary and middle and high school teachers that went above and beyond just trying to teach me math equations or analyze the themes in Shakespeare’s plays. And I wouldn’t have graduated from college, gone onto get a Master’s, or pursued a career in higher education if it weren’t for the faculty and staff who invested in me, challenged me, and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone that I sometimes have a hard time remembering what it feels like to be truly scared of anything.
And while I am so thankful for all the the things they taught me in the classroom, that’s really not even half of the story. I had teachers who helped me earn scholarships, who steered me toward opportunities to participate in prestigious writing programs, who helped me get published. I had teachers who helped me navigate volatile relationships, who pushed me get into therapy, who sat with me in the hospital until they knew that I was okay. I had teachers who helped me craft my first resume and cover letter, who invited me to dine in my very first Michelin-rated restaurant, who took me to my very first art museum and Broadway show. I had teachers who helped me piece together my first professional wardrobe and who (to this day) remain some of my greatest mentors and confidants and friends.
So, if you ask me what really makes the difference in a child’s education, you’re probably not going to hear me talk about the tests or the textbooks or the state-of-the-art facilities. Instead, I’m going to talk about the connections they can make with teachers, because from that love comes learning. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?
I watched a story on Nightline tonight that made me feel a little ill. In case you didn’t tune in, click on the link below and check it out before you continue…
Now, let me be the first to admit that I understand a parent’s desire to see her child succeed. I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve never daydreamed about Cadence’s future, that I’ve never pictured her growing up to be an amazingly successful human being. Believe me, I would be overjoyed if, someday, my little girl grows up to cure Cancer or win a Pulitzer Prize or bring a packed house to their feet in her Broadway debut. And you better believe that I am going to be there to encourage and support along the way.
What I have an issue with, a BIG issue with, is overzealous parents who heap ridiculous expectations on the shoulders of their children and rob them of their childhoods.
They’re kids, people! They’re freakin’ KIDS!
When you’re 4 years old, the biggest worries you should have is how high you can build your block tower before it falls over, and whether your Mom will let you have some chocolate milk with lunch. There is not a 4-year-old in the world that needs to spend several hours a week with a tutor preparing for a test. Kids learn by playing. They learn by experiencing the world around them through their five senses, by exploring and moving and interacting and letting their imaginations soar.
They learn by being allowed to be kids.
The way I see it, “gifted” children are children who have a passion for learning. They are children who hunger for knowledge, and who will go above and beyond to master a new skill or acquire a better understanding of the task at hand. They see learning as an exciting opportunity instead of as a chore. And how can parents foster that in their children? By encouraging them, supporting them, uplifting them, helping them, paying attention to them, teaching them, listening to them, interacting with them, challenging them, believing in them, and, most importantly, by allowing them to grow and develop and just be kids.
There’s plenty of time for the adult stuff later.
My daughter turned 2 in February, and I’ve never tried to force her to sit and learn anything. Lord knows, I’d probably have to tie her to a chair to get her to sit still for more than five minutes at a time, and honestly, I don’t see the point in trying to force her to sit down for any sort of “lesson” at her age. Even so, Cadence has learned to count. She’s mastered all the way up to 13 and adding more numbers all the time. She can identify several colors, and can identify all the letters of the alphabet. She’s obsessed with the alphabet, shouting out letters wherever she sees them–on t-shirts, license plates, and TV. Sometimes she’ll get one wrong, and she’ll say “No” and shake her head and correct herself without Steven and I ever saying a word.
We’re amazed at how quickly she’s learning, but we know that it’s because Cadence thinks it’s really fun. It’s a game to her. She loves shouting out the numbers when the judges on Dancing with the Stars give their scores, or when the bids on Storage Wars are climbing. She laughs when she hollers out the correct color M&M we reward her with when she goes pee-pee on the potty. And she beams with pride when we applaud her for correctly identifying all of the letters on the page in one of her storybooks.
Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert here by any means, but I do believe that the most important lesson that Cadence is learning right now is that learning is fun. She doesn’t need to be entertained by a crazy circus sideshow of “educational programming” (aka annoying TV shows marketed to children) or coddled or forced to sit and memorize. And she certainly doesn’t need us to spend thousands of dollars so she can spend weekends with a toddler tutor. She just needs our time, our attention, our patience, and, every so often, a little nudging in the right direction.
And what our educational system needs is a complete freakin’ overhaul, but that, my friends, is another post for another time. I’ve already written a few posts about it, so feel free to check those out…
Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait for my next education-themed rant. But, in the meantime, do me a favor and take a moment to play with your kids. You just might be surprised at what you learn from the experience.