My son, Rory, is 15. He’s an old soul.
He sort of has Dennis the Menace qualities. (Yes, I’m dating myself.) He is always outside. Whether it is mudpies, treehouses, cycling, helping neighbors to whatever—you name it. If I had a nickel for every time we sat down to dinner or I witnessed his grubby hands on the door frame and I had to remark, “Son, have you washed your hands?” I would be a millionaire.
Here’s the thing about Rory. He doesn’t particularly like school. I mean, it’s a means to an end for him. At 15 he is three years into his own lawn business with 25-30 clients each summer. We have struggled over school. He could be a straight A student, “But Mom…B’s are okay, too!” We have had lengthy conversations about effort as some of his “B” grades are 89s. “Son. An 89? Do you realize how close you are to an A?” “Mom. I’m cool with a B.”
And there it was. Staring me right in the face. I work daily with children (and parents) getting them to understand and accept children are more than a test grade, more than an assessment, more than one descriptor on a report card. Yet, as a parent, I wasn’t being true to that belief.
As the years have gone on with Rory, (He is a rising Junior in High School now.) I have had to bite my tongue often when I watched unnecessary projects come home. Anyone ever have to make a piece of jewelry to represent DNA? I think we spent $50 or more at Michael’s trying to make something clever, and he (nor me!) understood anything about DNA before, after or during the creation. It was frustrating for me as an educator, but even more frustrating for me as a parent as I watched this excited, embraces life kind of kid—start to lose his enthusiasm.
Then he threw a fishing rod into a pond. (Stay with me, it’s not what you think. That’s the lingo when one casts a rod into water. I am learning.)
What ensued has been a year of self-learning, self-teaching, resourcing, practicing, studying, participating and experiencing everything there is to know about bass fishing. What? BASS FISHING. No one in our family fishes. I thought the fish were named wide mouth bass. (They are large mouth bass. They are not Mason jars. There are also small mouth bass. There are also spotted bass. Come on Mom.) I had no idea where this interest came from. The back story is as simple as his best friend was given a fishing rod for his birthday and Rory tried it.
It didn’t take long for me to witness the magic unfurling. The truth that when children are excited about something, they are going to learn.
Late one afternoon as Rory was looking at a map for “the blue spaces” and convinced me to drive him to some “watering hole” that he knew was “around here somewhere…” We talked on the drive. He was telling me about depth and color and temperature of water. He was telling me about lures and how they’re made and why they work. He was informing me about fish and their movement and spawning habits. He was telling me about lakes and conservation. I was gobsmacked. I remember looking over at him and thinking, “This is it. This is what is missing in schools. This is the level we don’t get to when we teach. And if we did? We would capture every child and their learning would be exponential.”(Okay. I was also thinking, if he can learn all of this, why isn’t he making A’s. More to my point. He wasn’t interested in what was being delivered.)
How do we do that?
We have to expose children to the offbeat. We have to let them experience snippets of life that aren’t found in textbooks and curriculum. We need to build relationships and dialogue with children. We cannot speak AT them. We must allow children to bring their little lives into the classroom. Maybe it’s camping, or ballet or Japanese Saturday school. Maybe it’s baking or dolls. For our older children maybe it’s illustrating or music mixing or fashion or cars. We simply cannot let these passions smolder until they are snuffed out.
Not everything has to be innovative. Not everything has to be technological. Have you ever brought a stamp collection into your classroom? Old coins? What about a telephone? Have you ever talked about your path to teaching? Have you ever just created a space in your classroom for artifacts and articles and ideas where, simply by osmosis, even just one child might be inspired?
I digress a little bit.
I share all of this to say that my 15 year old son is competing this weekend in the Georgia State High School Bass Tournament. My kid! This 15 year old kid who cannot even keep his room clean has found a passion that is teaching him how to problem solve, think critically, be persistent, fail and try again, collaborate with others, be resourceful, study the environment, calculate math, learn how to plan and how to network (after all he doesn’t have a boat!) and so many other skills that will transfer to his life permanently. He has been surrounded by mentors that have taken a shining to him because they love bass fishing, too. It is a culture and the “old boys” are enthusiastic and eager to see the “up and comings.” Shouldn’t we be like that in our classrooms? Shouldn’t we take a shining to these young minds and hearts and mentor them to explore their world enthusiastically?
My son is a testament to allowing children to find their passion and then fanning those flames in every way possible. We owe it to our children to acknowledge their voice and choice. Schools and teachers have to be the channel to show them how to imagine the possibilities.
It started with barely visible line and a pole. What will it take for your children?
P.S. I have to add that not all of his teachers have snuffed out his enthusiasm for learning. Although school is a bit of a bummer for him? He did have a teacher that allowed him to write a Shakespearean sonnet about fishing. Way to go (!) fellow teacher for allowing that (obtuse) choice. He also had a teacher in his business class that allowed him to use his lawn business as the content for a business plan. We just have to be more intentional, purposeful and motivated to let kids learn through their passions.