“Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” – Navajo proverb
One of the greatest challenges I face, whether it be in my personal or professional life, is allowing someone I care about to struggle through an experience that they find difficult. When the chips are down and things get hard, I find it extremely challenging to resist the temptation to swoop in to the rescue. Many times, it is far easier to provide support and to help a person through their challenges than to allow them to fully experience the feeling of failure and defeat. But, in doing this, what is it, exactly, that this person misses out upon?
To be honest, I think that they miss out on learning the most vital lesson that anyone can ever learn- how to persist. In a recently published book entitled How Children Succeed, Paul Tough describes the most important personal characteristic that separates those that succeed from those that don’t. Whether you are growing up in poverty in Chicago, or attending a prestigious Ivy League school, the key to success is “grit” – the ability to persevere in pursuit of a passion. By consistently rescuing our students from this fear of failure, we essentially hamstring their ability to work through challenge. Not only this, but we rob them of accountability and ownership of that experience, whether it be good, bad, or somewhere in between.
My experience has taught me that “learning” does not constitute a teacher pouring information into the empty container that is a student’s mind. It also does not mean completing tasks or doing things for students, especially when things get tough. I believe that the best education is experiential. Students must explore and discover the meaning behind the topic at hand. They must also struggle at times, finding ways to uncover the answer to their questions, rather than having those answers handed to them. I believe that students can construct their own opinions and insight with regards to the topic, as opposed to simply learning how to regurgitate the information that the teacher thinks is important. Not only does this help my students to foster their own independent belief system, but it teaches them to think about how they learn and unravel information most effectively.
On this note, students must see the relevance in what they are learning. My curriculum needs to reflect events and issues that are important to them, as they relate to the content we are covering. As an educator, I must look to inspire and empower my students to give direction and purpose to their educations. Without student ownership and investment, an education is merely jumping through hoops in order to move on to the next step. Powerful education is driven by the student. Students must see and feel connected to the purpose of education- identifying content as the vehicle that will drive them towards understanding important principles, patterns, and concepts that are a part of our everyday lives.
As an educator, I also aim to provide students with an experience that encourages introspection and reflection on the path towards identity development. This can be done through curriculum, assignments, and content, but, most importantly, it requires my commitment to providing students the time, space, and provocation to explore the depths of themselves. I believe that we can do more to encourage this type of growth. Our efforts, in my mind, will pay off tremendously, as students will transition into adulthood with more insight, awareness, and purpose.
The experience of a childhood is the experience of learning – about the world, about ourselves, and about the role that we play in the world around us. Therefore, the purpose of an education should be to prepare a student for their future, whatever that might mean. For most, they will be the only true constant that will be with them throughout the duration of their life. The role of education, thus, should be to do as much as possible to create a series of learning experiences that allow these individuals to understand themselves, to be self-aware, and to have purpose and meaning to their pursuits. In doing so, we will be bestowing them with a gift that is far more significant than a job with perks, a moral upbringing, or even a vote. We will prepare them to experience all that our world offers, simply by recognizing and following their own path.