Saturday, June 8, 2013

Who Cares?

At my workshops, I often tell about an "aha moment" that I experienced when my oldest daughter, Kylia, was about 10 years old. I was watching the evening news, and I saw a report on the upcoming 4th Grade Proficiency Test, which would be administered in the public schools. The newscasters were "ooohing" and "ahhing" and moaning and groaning about the complex questions, on many topics, that were included in this test, which many 10 year olds would be taking. One of the questions pertained to finding a pattern. They listed a series of numbers on the TV screen and asked what number would come next in that pattern. My husband and I were immediately caught up in trying to solve it. The newscasters, after a few seconds of thinking, gave up. They were so impressed that 4th graders could do this, and shocked that they. as adults and college graduates, were unable to solve it.

I decided I would ask Kylia what she thought the answer should be. After all, she was 10 years old, and if she was in school, she would have to know that. I was not prepared for her answer. She wrinkled her nose and squinted her eyes and said, "Who cares?"

My first reaction was that I definitely needed to teach her some manners. How inconsiderate of her not to realize that I was only trying to help her become a well-rounded student with a good background in math, and all the other subjects. Well, she had better learn to care! Then, I stopped to give the situation some thought. I realized that she was not trying to be rude. She just really didn't see the point of the entire question. When I was in school, I seldom thought about why I was learning something. I was told to "learn" it, so I did. I memorized methods to solve such problems and I memorized facts and rules and theorems. I thought about the fact that although the newscasters said they couldn't solve the problem, they somehow managed to make a living in the world. I thought about the number of times that Kylia had pointed out patterns she had observed in nature and in games we played and in books she read, and I realized that when she needed to know, or when the learning served an obvious purpose, she did it effortlessly.

That experience was a moment of enlightenment. Having a reason to care about the answer to a question often makes the question easier to answer, or at least provides the impetus for finding out. Caring is important in everything we do... from cleaning the house to becoming a good driver to learning to read.

Many parents tell me that their young sons (usually between the ages of 5 and 11) struggle with reading. Sometimes there is a learning challenge, such as dyslexia that can cause the problem. Much of the time, it's because the boys (or girls) really don't care about reading at that stage. They have forts to build, skateboards to ride, trees to climb and dark corners to explore. Those little squiggly lines on the page are just that – little squiggly lines. Who cares? With time, they will become curious about what those squiggly lines mean, and reading will be a much easier task. It will have meaning.

When Kylia began working at her first job, I was amazed at how many things she could do at one time, and how well she planned and organized her work. She told me, "Mom, there is so much that needs to be done every day, and if we don't stay organized, it's a mess, and we aren't prepared for our customers." When she sold Avon, maintaining her checking account, organizing her orders and financial records and processing her orders in a timely manner, became a part of her school assignments. She once told me, "Mom, math is a lot more fun when you're making a profit." I agree. It's, also, far easier when it has meaning and purpose.

Does this mean that you should only have your children do the things they care about? Not really. It does mean that your job and theirs will be far easier if you can find a way to incorporate things they care about into the things you want them to learn. Are they building ramps for skateboarding? Hmmm. What is the optimum angle for the best jump? (geometry) Which materials work best when constructing a ramp? (physics) Is there a particular lubricant that works well on those wheels? (chemistry) Pick up some great books about skateboarding... but don't offer to read them to your child. You might be willing to help them learn how to read it for themselves... When they understand that those books contain information that can be helpful with the things they want to do, reading books suddenly seems far more interesting and necessary. Who knows what other secret information could be hidden between those covers?

Caring is important for optimum learning. It is, also, important for a meaningful career, a good college experience, and for teaching and parenting. Help your children to discover their own interests and passions. One of the ways you can do this is by pursuing your own passions. If you enjoy painting, paint. If you enjoy reading, read. If you enjoy woodcarving, carve.

If your child enjoys building, be on the lookout for opportunities to fuel that passion. Stock up on building materials, like Legos, craft sticks, clay, and cardboard boxes. Visit a construction site in your neighborhood. Buy them real tools as soon as they are old enough to handle them. If they are becoming skilled with the tools, ask them to design and build a bookcase or some other simple, but useful item for you. Look for books on building treehouses, forts, bridges, etc. at the library. Don't push any of these items. Just have them available. Take it slowly. Some interests are only for a short time, and some last a lifetime. Don't invest large sums of money, unless you are fairly certain this is a long-term interest.

By allowing your children's learning to be guided by their interests, you are opening the door to the possibility of a rewarding career. If everyone in this country had the opportunity to do work they love and care about, wouldn't that make this an even more wonderful place to be!

With passion and caring,


"The best career advice to give the young is, find out what you like doing best and get someone else to pay you for doing it." ~Katherine Whilehaen

"Follow your passion, and success will follow you." ~Arthur Buddhold

"Every civilization is, among other things, an arrangement for domesticating the passions and setting them to do useful work." ~Aldous Huxley