Monday, December 29, 2014

The Fun is in the Finding

That's a line from one of my very favourite children's books, The Finding Princess, by Sue-Ann Alderson. The princess makes increasingly impossible demands of her parents and grandparents until, in a fit of frustration, she tromps off into the wilderness to find for herself what she needs. She finds joy. She finds a life full of adventure and discovery, and certainly more intrinsic value than the life she had in the castle. It's a simplistic children's book with a very important life-learning message.

When I was a kid, my parents had the whole Encyclopedia Britannica as well as at least a decade's-worth of National Geographic magazines upon our bookshelf, which I referred to for many of my perplexing questions. I have great memories of researching ear-shapes by examining the ears in various portraits I found in those many books. I don't expect that the person who chose the portraits had any idea how useful they would be to my grade eight ear research, but I have never forgotten that particular exploration. Sometime during high school it was impressed upon me by a teacher that the reason for the work we were doing was to transfer the information from those books and others into my mind, so that I wouldn't have to look it up anymore. What?! And that was the end? No way. The books - I knew for certain - existed to preclude the need for memorization! Now we have the Internet, and it's more evident than ever how pointless it would be to begin memorizing. The task, clearly, is to learn to explore, to learn to navigate, and to learn to process information critically, with an astute awareness that there is no one correct outcome. The joy and the value is in the journey.

If I present my kids with a desired outcome, they generally balk, unless they perceive the outcome to be of immediate use. If I present my kids with a question, they usually get intrigued. If I present them with a question that is designed to lead them to a particular outcome, they usually follow along for a bit, until we all get side-tracked and end up somewhere else entirely. Interestingly, though, when I work with a group of mixed schoolers and unschoolers, I see some very obvious distinctions: The kids who have no intentional unschooling experiences (usually those who have always attended full-time school programs) look for the hidden lesson or goal in everything I present. Instead of exploring the question, they wait to find out the answer. Many also grow uncomfortable when it becomes clear that there is no predetermined answer or outcome. After a day or two with the group, they learn to navigate, usually by trying out some hitherto 'unacceptable' behaviours, until they realize that they truly are in control of their own experiences, and adjust to the group. It's an amazing transformation to see, and I consider it one of the greatest personal gains from teaching: watching kids discover their own innate value. One of the most difficult things for me, as an unschooling parent and teacher, is to always answer questions in a way that inspires investigation instead of in a way that points to an answer. Needless to say, I read The Finding Princess often.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comment will appear after it is approved. This can take a while!