Monday, October 5, 2015

Eyes on the Prize

This weekend I've been holding a video camera for my son, to help him with a video tutorial contest he wants to enter. I've tried to give him video advice, but he won't take it. The biggest advice he'll take from me is to turn so that he's not hidden by his own shadow. I've tried to explain that I'm not usurping his creativity; that this is only something I can see from behind the camera. But I see that he's unhappy about my input. He's always been this way: fiercely independent, to the extent that if he accepts any advice or help with what he does, he usually disowns the project. It's extremely frustrating to me.

I want him to do well in this contest! I want him to win the two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar scholarship!! And I know he's competing against kids with both years of experience and teams of expert help and advisers. I want him to succeed. And I'm afraid he'll be demoralized if he doesn't even make the first cut, as judged by the other contestants.

He's just happy he gets to judge some of his peers.

This is where I have to step back and remind myself how we got here, and what the true prize really is. I wrought this situation myself.

Since my son was born I've been encouraging him to trust his own devices; to find his own answers. I've rejected any program or arrangement where outcomes were predetermined, or where the method or journey was prescribed. When a child learns that the correct drawing is the one that looks like something we already recognize, or (worse) that looks like an example they've been asked to copy, he learns that his worth is dependent upon somebody else's expectations. That's a child who now sees no value in his own ideas. When he learns that the parent's or teacher's word is the final word, he learns that his own judgement is not valued. He learns not to trust himself. When he learns that his own video isn't good enough without input from somebody more experienced, he learns that innovation is never as important as measuring up. He learns that his own agency is worthless.

Ironically, the video my son is making is an explanation of his own personal take on some physics theories. And I wanted to give him advice. Oops.

My son is very interested in photography. Until this past weekend (when his camera died!) he had the freedom to photograph completely without interference from anybody else, and I have always appreciated the perspective he presents in his photos. He is slowly evolving his own style and techniques because of the lack of interference from well-meaning tutors like me. It's a joy to watch. You can check out his photography blog here:

He may not win this contest - he may not even score highly enough with his peers that the contest judges will even look at his video. But he gets to make a video and share it with other teens who care about physics. If I can just manage to stop my own competitive and fear-driven interference, he will retain the feeling that his creative product is his own. He will retain the feeling that his ideas matter. He will know that he is worth something, and that is the true prize.

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