“Think outside the box” is a phrase we have all heard. It means to get creative, to approach something in a new and different way; to not do what everyone else does. High praise is showered on people who think outside the box.
As long as you don’t stay there too long or, heaven forbid, live your whole life that way! Then you’re just weird. Schoolchildren, for example, may be asked to ‘think outside the box’ when it comes to specific projects, but make no mistake, they are very much trained to live and learn inside the box. Life and education inside the box looks something like this:
You attend a public or private school from pre-school through 12th grade spending almost all of your waking hours in a classroom or doing homework. You do all kinds of test prep to help you score high on the SAT’s in order to get into a good college. You get a college degree and then a Master’s Degree and if you really want to succeed, a PhD. Then you get a job and hope that your boss will value you enough to never fire you or ‘downsize’ you. You spend the bulk of your life working toward an ever elusive future where you will be happy, successful and wealthy. Behold, The Box version of education and life.
Now for living and learning outside the box. Do the names Bethany Hamilton and Abby Sunderland ring any bells? If not, let me refresh your memory, because I’m fairly certain you’ve heard of them.
Bethany Hamilton is the girl whose arm was bit off by a tiger shark when she was 13 years old while she was surfing. A new film has been made about her entitled, “Soul Surfer”. Despite losing her arm, she was back surfing 6 months later and went pro at the age of 17. She surfs almost every day while also traveling the globe talking to amputees and shark attack survivors. What you may not know? She was homeschooled.
Abby Sunderland was only 16 when she attempted to sail solo around the world and beat her older brother’s record – he’d done it at age 17. She made it to the Indian Ocean before a rogue wave capsized her yacht, breaking off the mast. A French fishing vessel spotted her after two days and she was rescued. She says she has no regrets and would do it again. She and her siblings are also homeschooled.
These two girls are the epitome of life and education outside the box. Their stories are perhaps extreme, but when kids are allowed to learn outside of school (the literal and figurative box) and follow their passions, they can do extremely amazing things. Of course both girls’ parents came under harsh criticism for ‘allowing’ their children to pursue such dangerous goals, but that’s to be expected in a country where most people think any kind of autonomy is ‘too dangerous’ for kids under the age of 18.
Yesterday’s entry was about our struggle with the standardized test. Last night, a part of me still wanted to look through the questions and check Maya’s answers to see how she did. But standardized tests are so ‘inside the box’ that I beat back my school brain impulses, and today I threw the test booklets in the recycling. My kids know that it’s up to them whether or not they go to college, but secretly I hope they choose not to. I hope, instead, that they find something they are passionate about – as passionate as Bethany about surfing and Abby sailing – and follow it without any thought to what ‘most people’ do.
It’s hard to break out of the box once you’re in it. It’s safe and warm in there (or at least that’s what you’re led to believe), but you never see anything except the walls that surround you. Outside the box, the world is wide and the potential unlimited.
Where would you rather live?