Some people might think my kids are spoiled.
After all, they stay up as late as they want, sleep until they wake up and take part only in those activities in which they have an interest.
Rather than spoiled, I would say my kids are valued and respected.
I respect that their time is just as valuable to them as mine is to me and that, as such, I should respect how they want to spend that time. I can feel some people rolling their eyes. Value a kid’s time? If they’re not in school being told what to do and how to be a “good citizen” what could they possibly be doing that would be value-able?
A lot, actually.
I know, I know. You’re thinking video games and texting. You’re thinking there is nothing valuable in either of those activities and that left to their own devices children will become the epitome of “sloth”. Or perhaps “entitlement”.
And I won’t lie, video games and texting – among other “screen” related activities- factor into my kids’ days. But it doesn’t bother me.
It doesn’t bother me because they also do things like start businesses or learn – on their own – about various metals and elements and their uses. It doesn’t bother me because they talk to friends all over the world via text and Face Time. It doesn’t bother me because by the time they turn 18 they’ll be years ahead of their schooled peers when it comes to knowing their way around this planet and being comfortable about their place in it.
Michael Ellsberg recently sent me an unpublished ‘bonus section’ to his book Education of Millionaires. In his book he took a neutral stance on whether or not kids should go to college; in the bonus section he lays out a very compelling argument why self-directed learning is superior not only to college, but all schooling (unless your life goal is showing up at a middle management job at a large corporation or going into a licensed profession). The quote that most stayed with me from this bonus piece was the following:
“We undervalue the potential work product of young people. And that causes us to undervalue their time. When we undervalue their time, we don’t care about subjecting them to some weird bureaucratic machine that just wastes all their time and has them taking tests. Because fundamentally, when it comes down to it, we don’t think young people are valuable. Of course, there’s this veneer about, ‘Oh, they’re our future, they’re our most important resources, that’s why we’re making all these investments.’ But really what’s underneath is we think young people’s time is not valuable, and that they’re not capable of producing anything interesting. So we essentially put them in this elaborate academic daycare system until age twenty-two. Everyone loses. The kids lose. American business loses. Everyone loses.”
He is 100% right, in my opinion. Think about it. When children are young we send them to daycare or pre-school or school instead of allowing them to play as much as they want. Free unstructured play is not seen as valuable – it’s just seen as frivolous fun that needs to be usurped as soon as possible by ‘meaningful education’. (Don’t believe me? Check out the new expectations of kindergartners as laid out in the “Common Core”.)
Then, as kids get older, we tell them to stop “messing around”. If they are in school, they have to put any of their own interests aside – at least until the homework is done, the tests are taken, the grades are good, the admissions process is over – in other words, until they graduate from grad school. Even kids who aren’t in school are restricted from opening their own bank accounts or having their own businesses until they are older. (The age varies but 16 is, I believe, the legal work age in NY.) This is not protection from child labor – no one is suggesting 14 hour days in windowless sweatshops or coal mines – it is simply that we don’t think there is any way a kid would need their own bank account (a checking account, NOT a savings account). We don’t believe they could start, run and grow a business. We think any such attempts are “cute” or “quaint” but of course not serious or worth any real consideration.
When you tell people that children’s time is valuable and respect-worthy they sometimes laugh or look slightly put-off or confused. Kids should respect their elders, but where does it say that elders should respect their kids? (Respect, in case you haven’t noticed, is pretty much a two way street. Hard to get respect from those you treat as unimportant.)
Maybe if we could change the way we view kids we would see with all clarity how detrimental the current school system is to them. Maybe if we could just see our kids for who they really are – human beings who are capable of far more than we usually give them credit for – we wouldn’t allow the coercive nature of schooling & its stranglehold on our children to go on.
Respecting your kids and doing your best to value their time and their interests doesn’t make you a weak parent. It also doesn’t make you perfect. Everyone makes mistakes – parents and children alike.
But respect is a good place to start.
Quotes from Michael Ellsberg are used with permission.