What makes a person successful?
In school they tell you that if you pay attention, study hard and get good grades then you’ll be successful. (Oh yes, and let us not forget those all important TEST SCORES!)
Paying attention seems to be an especially important factor to those who stand in front of groups of students. I’ve also heard it described as “active listening”, which always makes me want to say, “As opposed to ‘inactive listening’?”
When someone insists that kids need to pay attention, what they mean is that they want them to sit still and LOOK at the person who is speaking. They must not doodle or, god forbid, use their smartphones or other technology in any way. Anything less than sitting up straight with eyes front is a sign of disrespect and lack of interest in learning. A one way ticket to failure, if you believe the hype. It is the antithesis of success.
Of course, no one asks the all important question of why kids aren’t paying attention. (Doodling or making notes on a device doesn’t count. Some people learn best when ‘busy’ with other things.) I’m talking about those truly “disrespectful” kids who are writing poetry, or listening to music or playing games on their phones while the teacher is talking.
Why is no attention being paid?
Brenna McBroom, who along with Blake Boles runs a writing retreat for unschoolers, told me that over the course of the two week retreat, she and the others involved offer classes or seminars for the kids; each one on some aspect of writing. None of these sessions are mandatory, and if the kids lose interest, they are not required to stay. She told me it is a huge reality check to have people get up and leave in the middle because they’ve lost interest. As a result, guess how hard the counselors at the retreat work to make sure their seminars hold the interest of the kids? Can you imagine if schooled kids were allowed to get up and leave any class they found uninteresting?
But guess what? Playing games, listening to music, writing letters, texting during class is the mental equivalent of leaving the room. It should be a huge red flag to teachers, not that the kids are in need of some discipline or control, but that the subject matter or presentation thereof is of little or no interest.
So back to the matter at hand. What creates success?
The answer is actually quite easy. Success comes from passion, applied.
It is the duty of every parent, every teacher, to see what sparks the passion in a child, and encourage it. All too often a kid’s passion is seen as unnecessary, unimportant or irrelevant because it doesn’t match with what the parent or the school deems worthy. As a result many children put aside what they want to do in order to attempt what they’re told they should do. They try to “pay attention”.
I call that a tragedy.
A few months ago I wrote a post about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo. In the documentary “Being Elmo” he says that he tells children that if they have something they love to do that is different from what most kids are doing, there will always be someone who tells them they won’t succeed, or that they can’t make any money with it. Then he says, “But all of that will go away if you just focus on doing what makes you happy.”
Kevin had parents who supported his passion.
Doesn’t every child deserve the same?