Best College Prep Is Cocking a Snook!

19 10 2006

Maybe the part of education ripe for dads to engage themselves in, then? 😉

A college professor herself and unschooling parent of three college-level creatives, Pam Sorooshian found this professor’s very “unschool-y” advice. I’m posting it whole because it applies to most discussions here, and nearly every line is quotable. Here’s his set-up:

“. . . many young adults have been cheated by years of excessive schoolwork and teamwork, too many extracurricular activities, and a straitjacketed “just say no to anything risky” upbringing. I am convinced that modern childhood generally does not build enough independence and thirst for knowledge.”

Posted on Mon, Oct. 16, 2006

Raise children with a wild streak
Many `ideal’ students lack inventive, restless and self-reliant spirit
MARK PRUETT
Special to the Charlotte Observer

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of childhood playtime. It reinforces my own belief that many young adults have been cheated by years of excessive schoolwork and teamwork, too many extracurricular activities, and a straitjacketed “just say no to anything risky” upbringing. I am convinced that modern childhood generally does not build enough independence and thirst for knowledge.

For the past few years I helped interview high school seniors seeking scholarships to come to Appalachian State University. These applicants come from all over the state. They play instruments and sports, participate in church and charity, and work in diverse jobs.

They also display remarkably similar accomplishments. They are at the top of their high school classes and possess generically good manners. They lead teams, groups and clubs. They are smart, solid and hardworking.

They might be surprised to learn that I, like many college professors, yearn for rarer traits — curiosity, passion, a wild streak. Yes, teamwork and leadership skills will help your child to implement someone else’s ideas, and extensive extracurricular activities will foster responsibility.

What your child really needs, though, is an inventive, self-reliant, restless spirit.

The key questions

For me, the heart-wrenching interview moment is when we ask these teenagers what they would choose to do on a day spent alone. Many say they never have the chance. Worse still, some have no answer at all. This should disturb and sadden any parent.

In the end, my scholarship votes ride on two questions: Is this someone that I’d be excited to have in my class? And is he or she open to being changed by my class? Class rank and extracurricular activities are less important than genuine individuality or enthusiasm. It matters not whether someone is bold or shy, worldly or naïve. Is there a flash of determination, a streak of independence, a creative passion, an excited curiosity?

We need more students like the ones who leave after graduation to work as missionaries or in the Peace Corps. More like the ones who start successful businesses while in school. More like the ones who find the courage to go overseas for a summer or a semester because they know their own worlds are far too small.

Some students are team players and high achievers, but I’d trade them for stubbornly creative iconoclasts. Some students as children were taught to color inside the lines, watch Barney the purple dinosaur, and always ask permission. We need students who found out what Crayons tasted like, loved reading “The Cat in the Hat” and paid little attention to rules — students whose parents encouraged their children’s curiosity.

Something’s missing

The irony is that many students begin to perceive late in college that they’ve missed something along the way. They regret not taking risks with difficult professors, unusual courses or semesters abroad. They berate themselves by equating self-worth with grades, and they are saddened by the realization that they have only glimpsed the breadth of the university. They begin to grasp that their uncomfortable sense of passivity has its roots in the highly controlled existence foisted on them.

Parents: love, guide and support your children, but don’t insulate them, control them or let them be too busy. Independence, confidence and creativity come from freedom, risk and a good measure of unstructured solitude.

Encourage studying but make them play hooky, too — partly to learn what it feels like to be unprepared and partly to foster spontaneity, irreverence and joy. Study chemistry together, then blow up a television in the backyard.

Foster camaraderie and connectedness through group activities (especially family ones), but be unyielding in your commitment to teaching them to love doing things entirely on their own. Make each child plan and cook the family’s dinner on his or her own once a week.

Surround them with books, not video games. Raise a garden or build a deck together. Send them on solo trips.

However you choose to do it, give your children, their teachers and society one of the greatest gifts of all: Help your kids become creative, independent, curious, interesting people.

Mark Pruett is an assistant professor in the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University.


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8 responses

19 10 2006
misedjj

Our 16-year-old daughter grew up as described in this piece, and now her college teachers are literally in awe of her as an ideal student, for these very reasons — which I of course take as validation that unschooling principles are more authentic as education than most schooling is. She’s starting to blog about her experiences, and I’ll try to write some soon from my perspective, too.

19 10 2006
Deanne

It’s good to know there are those in the education field that can appreciate independent students, rather than be threatened by them.

The only thing I would change about this article is this, “Surround them with books, not video games.” Why not surround your children with books AND video games? Why try to limit their world and make it smaller at all? (No to mention the fact that research is finally catching up and beginning to show what great “learning tools” video games really are. )

19 10 2006
misedjj

LOL – I balked at that same line! But it was the only thing in the whole piece, so I just sort of mentally edited it to myself and went on. I used to be a sort of Book Snob too, not meaning to diss anything else but just because I loved them SO much. I remember that innocently loyal feeling now, to try be more charitable to True Believers in any dogma, from classical schoolteachers to vegetarian chefs and tree-huggers. 🙂

19 10 2006
NanceConfer

Hi Deanne! 🙂

Nance

19 10 2006
misedjj

Hmmm – I just reread the author’s opening again, and realized that he could be talking about school-at-home, too! Not just actual school much less only public schooling.

The reason I note this now, is that Daryl posted a food analogy today (my fave!) suggesting that all forms of home education are no different than differently spread PB&J sandwiches (check it out here, I won’t try to recap!)

2 09 2007
Disciplined Devouts and Creative Iconoclasts As College-Worthy? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] you choose to do it, give your children, their teachers and society one of the greatest gifts of all: Help your kids become creative, independent, curious, interesting […]

12 09 2007
Schoolkids aren’t conscripts in your ideological army! « Cocking A Snook!

[…] we need to just accept that and put these on even footing. And then figure out some other ways to actually educate all the curious kids, who want to learn to think for themselves without forced-choice answers set in stone before their time — hey, how about newspapers and […]

24 09 2009
reminders — Secular Homeschool.eu

[…] a comment from my most recent cry for help, JJ quotes from one of her own past posts (a quote of a quote of a quote of a quote, I […]

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