Kids in today’s school system are not being prepared well for tomorrow’s world.
As someone who went from the corporate world and then the government world to the ever-changing online world, I know how the world of yesterday is rapidly becoming irrelevant. I was trained in the newspaper industry, where we all believed we would be relevant forever — and I now believe will go the way of the horse and buggy.
Unfortunately, I was educated in a school system that believed the world in which it existed would remain essentially the same, with minor changes in fashion. We were trained with a skill set that was based on what jobs were most in demand in the 1980s, not what might happen in the 2000s.
And that kinda makes sense, given that no one could really know what life would be like 20 years from now. Imagine the 1980s, when personal computers were still fairly young, when faxes were the cutting-edge communication technology, when the Internet as we now know it was only the dream of sci-fi writers like William Gibson.
We had no idea what the world had in store for us.
And here’s the thing: we still don’t. We never do. We have never been good at predicting the future, and so raising and educating our kids as if we have any idea what the future will hold is not the smartest notion.
How then to prepare our kids for a world that is unpredictable, unknown? By teaching them to adapt, to deal with change, to be prepared for anything by not preparing them for anything specific.
This requires an entirely different approach to child-rearing and education. It means leaving our old ideas at the door, and reinventing everything.
My drop-dead gorgeous wife Eva (yes, I’m a very lucky man) and I are among those already doing this. We homeschool our kids — more accurately, we unschool them. We are teaching them to learn on their own, without us handing knowledge down to them and testing them on that knowledge.
It is, admittedly, a wild frontier, and most of us who are experimenting with unschooling will admit that we don’t have all the answers, that there is no set of “best practices”. But we also know that we are learning along with our kids, and that not knowing can be a good thing — an opportunity to find out, without relying on established methods that might not be optimal.
I won’t go too far into methods here, as I find them to be less important than ideas. Once you have some interesting ideas to test, you can figure out an unlimited amount of methods, and so my dictating methods would be too restrictive.
Instead, let’s look at a good set of essential skills that I believe children should learn, that will best prepare them for any world of the future. I base these on what I have learned in three different industries, especially the world of online entreprenurship, online publishing, online living … and more importantly, what I have learned about learning and working and living in a world that will never stop changing.
1. Asking questions. What we want most for our kids, as learners, is to be able to learn on their own. To teach themselves anything. Because if they can, then we don’t need to teach them everything — whatever they need to learn in the future, they can do on their own. The first step in learning to teach yourself anything is learning to ask questions. Luckily, kids do this naturally — our hope is to simply encourage it. A great way to do this is by modeling it. When you and your child encounter something new, ask questions, and explore the possible answers with your child. When he does ask questions, reward the child instead of punishing him (you might be surprised how many adults discourage questioning).
2. Solving problems. If a child can solve problems, she can do any job. A new job might be intimidating to any of us, but really it’s just another problem to be solved. A new skill, a new environment, a new need … they’re all simply problems to be solved. Teach your child to solve problems by modeling simple problem solving, then allowing her to do some very easy ones on her own. Don’t immediately solve all your child’s problems — let her fiddle with them and try various possible solutions, and reward such efforts. Eventually, your child will develop confidence in her problem-solving abilities, and then there is nothing she can’t do.
3. Tackling projects. As an online entrepreneur, I know that my work is a series of projects, sometimes related, sometimes small and sometimes large (which are usually a group of smaller projects). I also know that there isn’t a project I can’t tackle, because I’ve done so many of them. This post is a project. Writing a book is a project. Selling the book is another project. Work on projects with your kid, letting him see how it’s done by working with you, then letting him do more and more by himself. As he gains confidence, let him tackle more on his own. Soon, his learning will just be a series of projects that he’s excited about.
4. Finding passion. What drives me is not goals, not discipline, not external motivation, not reward … but passion. When I’m so excited that I can’t stop thinking about something, I will inevitably dive into it fully committed, and most times I’ll complete the project and love doing it. Help your kid find things she’s passionate about — it’s a matter of trying a bunch of things, finding ones that excite her the most, helping her really enjoy them. Don’t discourage any interest — encourage them. Don’t suck the fun out of them either — make them rewarding.
5. Independence. Kids should be taught to increasingly stand on their own. A little at a time, of course. Slowly encourage them to do things on their own. Teach them how to do it, model it, help them do it, help less, then let them make their own mistakes. Give them confidence in themselves by letting them have a bunch of successes, and letting them solve the failures. Once they learn to be independent, they learn that they don’t need a teacher, a parent, or a boss to tell them what to do. They can manage themselves, and be free, and figure out the direction they need to take on their own.
6. Being happy on their own. Too many of us parents coddle our kids, keeping them on a leash, making them rely on our presence for happiness. When the kid grows up, he doesn’t know how to be happy. He must immediately attach to a girlfriend or friends. Failing that, they find happiness in other external things — shopping, food, video games, the Internet. But if a child learns from an early age that he can be happy by himself, playing and reading and imagining, he has one of the most valuable skills there is. Allow your kids to be alone from an early age. Give them privacy, have times (such as the evening) when parents and kids have alone time.
7. Compassion. One of the most essential skills ever. We need this to work well with others, to care for people other than ourselves, to be happy by making others happy. Modeling compassion is the key. Be compassionate to your child at all times, and to others. Show them empathy by asking how they think others might feel, and thinking aloud about how you think others might feel. Demonstrate at every opportunity how to ease the suffering of others when you’re able, how to make others happier with small kindnesses, how that can make you happier in return.
8. Tolerance. Too often we grow up in an insulated area, where people are mostly alike (at least in appearance), and when we come into contact with people who are different, it can be uncomfortable, shocking, fear-inducing. Expose your kids to people of all kinds, from different races to different sexuality to different mental conditions. Show them that not only is it OK to be different, but that differences should be celebrated, and that variety is what makes life so beautiful.
9. Dealing with change. I believe this will be one of the most essential skills as our kids grow up, as the world is always changing and being able to accept the change, to deal with the change, to navigate the flow of change, will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill I’m still learning myself, but I find that it helps me tremendously, especially compared to those who resist and fear change, who set goals and plans and try to rigidly adhere to them as I adapt to the changing landscape. Rigidity is less helpful in a changing environment than flexibility, fluidity, flow. Again, modeling this skill for your child at every opportunity is important, and showing them that changes are OK, that you can adapt, that you can embrace new opportunities that weren’t there before, should be a priority. Life is an adventure, and things will go wrong, turn out differently than you expected, and break whatever plans you made — and that’s part of the excitement of it all.
We can’t give our children a set of data to learn, a career to prepare for, when we don’t know what the future will bring. But we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.
Leo Babauta is the founder of the popular Zen Habits Blog. This post is shared here with permission. More from Leo on DailyGood: 10 Benefits of Rising Early, and How to Do It Toss Productivity Out Focus: Single-Tasking and Productivity The Best Goal is No Goal
Buddingbuddha....and I'm a Buddhist, by the way, but why do people assume homeschooling is removing children from social situations, and team building opportunities? And to be honest, every time I tried being social in school, I was told to "Be Quiet!" Teams? Please, team work meant the nerd (me) did all the work of the project, while the other students did nothing. But I'm sorry, this is a positive site, we shouldn't be negative. Schooling is ok for some, and homeschooling is ok for others. I am homeschooling my boys, though I received my bachelors with the intent to teach high school. Today we met at a homeschool friend's house for board games, tomorrow our fellow homeschool group meets at the community center for art class and field trip planning. Parents are NOT the only adult role models for my children, and what complexities are there to being housed year after year with children ONLY the same age as yourself?! Too many people have opinions about things, thinking that their opinions are fact, without having any true knowledge or experience of a subject. If you think homeschoolers are isolated and not socialized, quit leaving comments and please do a search on: 'your city-homeschool events/groups.' Thank you. And please, broaden your horizons. The idea that there is ever only "ONE" right way to do something is so limiting and biased. New ideas are essential for growth.
Home schooling kids is wrong. I'm a school teacher and I couldn't agree more with these essential skills you describe and I try and deliver these in the classroom. Yes the education system isn't perfect but in my opinion taking a child out of 'society' and homeschooling them is not the answer. How will homeschool children develop social skills and team work? Understanding how to work with others (in all their complexities) is essential in today's society. Having access to a variety of adult role modals with different expertise is crucial. I would never of developed my passion for Music, Philosophy, Astronomy, Art, History, Buddhism (to name a few) from my parents alone. Parents have a hugh impact on a child's education but not exclusively, 'good' schooling is essential too.
When I was a kid parents were the primary educators of these 9 traits.
In a two-full-time-working-parent family there is not enough time to develop and follow a curriculum. I wish you would write an article or a book outlining some of the methods you've found most effective.
Children should be taught to collaborate. Independence is overrated these days. Great things are achieved by teams, not individuals. While we should be happy with ourselves and have our own lives, developing a sense of community is just as important. It's something sadly lacking in society right now. We're too transfixed with the global community.
This article is must read for everyone. Not only as a young parent. I am 60 years and a parent of two grown up adults. I will share this article with them and others. Also I can myself see what I have missed and imbibe them to capture the fullness of living life itself. Thanks for sharing
I must say that this is a great post. Really I am impressed
from this post....the person who creates this post it was a great human. I put
a link to your blog at my site, hope you don't mind?
I wish I wrote this. Brilliant!
1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
Very good article. If my father was alive he would be happy some writer is making sense. I appreciate reading articles like this one. Good reading. Good writing. This is good stuff for everyone who has children
This is a good list. I think we need to be careful, however, in advising "Allow your kids to be alone from an early age." If done too early, it can have the opposite effect and cause children either to be overly clingy or desensitized to their own senses.
We don't believe in tolerance, it implies putting up with something... we believe in acceptance of differences, and differing views. I also agree with amy, every moment in your life is a learning moment. When my son was totally homeschooled he'd go to a restaurant with me and figure out the tip, calculate mileage while I was driving, read maps, and read every label. Life is learning!
The only item on the list I question is independence - "they learn that they don’t need a teacher, a parent, or a boss to tell
them what to do. They can manage themselves, and be free, and figure out
the direction they need to take on their own."
Giving them the confidence to stand up on their own is good. Thinking they don't need a teacher, a parent, a boss or anyone else, isn't necessarily good. We need teachers and role models. The reality is that most of us will have bosses telling us what to do.
Managing themselves and figuring out their own direction is good. Thinking they're free to do what they want, whenever they want, without realizing or considering that this may create consequences for others isn't.
Sometimes I think our culture stresses independence as a value too much. We are interdependent.
1 reply: Shaun | Post Your Reply
Hey I'm only 20 but great article! Thank you for sharing your valuable observations!
T things like tolerance and compassion are not skills. They are virtues. The distinction is important: Virtues are not taught. They are cultivated. That has big implications for the structure of schooling, the selection of teachers, the building of school communities and most of all our sense of the purpose of education.
There is evidence to suggest that face-to-face contact with peers is perhaps more important; that social/emotional development is the prime indicator of not only success, but happiness. Give this a listen: http://itc.conversationsnet...
Thanks for a great article. We are home schooling our two children. We live in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. We have been doing this for the last three years. They are 7 years old. And I think they are doing really good as far as studies is concerned.
They are really good at relating to children from lesser education or lower income strata. They mingle with them readily and there is no barrier in their mind.
My boy is more active. After his scheduled homework is over, he is now finding it difficult to find out how to fill his time. I am also concerned about the same. My wife, who is dedicated to this cause, she is a home maker and children maker, says he will slowly understand what he wants in life. But since I have not lived life like that, I become nervous.
Kindly share your experiences.
I'm giving my kids a Montessori education, which seems like a pretty good way to give them most of those things suggested above, without the commitment of becoming their teacher - that's something I'm not so passionate about :) And they're thriving, loving school and becoming amazing human beings along the way.
I have to say this sort of method actually works to a degree with some of the older generation. My parents have had mediocre phones for years. I have finally gotten them both into smartphones. I walked both of them through the initial process of discovering that they are very user friendly devices. I have for the most part gotten them to the point where they teach themselves what they want to know. They still have a question here or there but before I finish answering they have already comprehended the process. If they want to do a review, and they say "I press this", I respond with a shrug and say I don't know.
With all this being said, This is the way they raised me. Outcome: I am a very adaptable human being, and I am returning the favor to them.
Oops. That last line should read:
"Thanks for affirming what we do; please support us."
I think it is also important to remember that not all children have parents with the time or the ability to educate their children this way.
There are a lot of teachers like myself (18 years at a public high school) who are educating their students with these values at the core of our teaching. We need the help of parents and the public in general to continue to do this and to expand our efforts so that all students have access to this kind of schooling.
Thanks for affirming we do; please support us.
I sent this to my son to be an example to my grand-daughters. I raised my kids this way (at least I tried to). I have always been proud of them for being "adaptable". Thank you for this post!
I'm married to a man who was educated in just such a way. He was the exception of course in our generation (we are both near 60), but his ability to teach himself, solve problems, adapt to change while being passionate about his work and having compassion for others has served as a great example to our children. (Sadly, my own public school and at-home education was below sub-par, and even that is an understatement.) I'm so grateful for this article as it really voices what I have observed, and I know it will help so many parents who are searching for the best education for their own kids. THANK YOU.
This is great. As an adult, I find it helpful for myself as well. This is not only for children, but perspective for us at all ages. Thank you for sharing!
On Oct 16, 2014 Tina Eppler wrote:
BuddingBuddha WOW! Perhaps you are really just beginning to learn the Buddhist ways or any other form of kindness and respect. You can't honestly make a blanket statement for what is "right or wrong" for others. As a "school" teacher what do you actually know about education at home? The idea that home-schooled children are taken out of society is completely inaccurate. My children spend more time per week interacting with others in our society than a kid that sits in the same building 5 days a week. I am not even against public schools in general. We have some wonderfully talented teachers in this country. However, as a society we have shown teachers that they are not valued. Our teachers get paid to little and then give them to many kids in a class. (I will leave it at that.) Frankly, we have shown America's children that they are not valued either. I have gone into our local school and checked out the curriculum my children would be using. Everyday Math and Creative Spelling? Please! How can we be judged by people who don't know anything about us or what we are teaching? How? Fear. That is how.[Hide Full Comment]
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