"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Friday, September 16, 2011

I want you to love this. So I'm going to force you to do it.


Confession: I have watched the movie The Sure Thing approximately 8625 times (give or take a thousand) There was a point in time when my sister and I could sit and recite the entire movie back and forth, without missing a single line. We're geeky talented like that. Also on my watched againandagainandagain list: When Harry Met Sally, The Breakfast Club, Real Genius, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Say Anything. Yes, I am aware that they made other movies both before and after the '80s, but that shall forever remain my favorite movie decade.

I love movies. I love them for their storytelling, for their settings, and for their dialogue. I love the cinematography. I love thinking about the screenplay (and being reminded of my all-time favorite class in college). I love the soundtracks, and how the music makes you really feel what you're watching. I love that I can watch a movie over and over, and still notice something new every time. I love watching the characters in the background, and seeing how much they add or detract from the main action. I love catching when they've made a mistake of continuity in the editing. I love that a favorite movie can bring me out of the doldrums like nothing else.

Because I love them, I naturally share that love with my kids. It just sort of bubbles out of me. We talk about movies, I tell them about my old favorites, we watch together, we look up the actors we like to see what else they've been in.  I don't know that they will all grow up loving movies as much as I do... but I do know that they enjoy and appreciate them.  They're something fun that we all take part in, both individually and as a family, simply because I couldn't help but share this part of myself with the people around me.

You know what I don't do?  I don't force them to watch movies.  Ever.  I don't require them to watch movies.  I don't set aside a certain part of the day for watching movies.  I don't tell them how much it would mean to me if they loved movies.  I don't make them watch movies when they'd rather be reading, or playing ball or taking apart an engine.  Doing so would then make movies an unpleasant chore... the exact opposite of my intention.  It would likely make them in fact strongly dislike movies (and possibly also strongly dislike ME in the process).  At a minimum, it would make them resentful of my insistence, and all but ensure that it becomes a past time that they would then never willingly pursue or enjoy of their own volition.

Doesn't that just seem like common sense?

Why then, do people hold the belief that they can foster the love of reading (another of the great loves of my life) through force?  Through requiring children - whether they seem ready or receptive or not - to sitting down, and practicing, practicing, practicing... as though it were an arduous and grueling task instead of what it actually is:  a useful and often pleasurable skill, one that should be enjoyed and embraced by the individual doing it.  Let me ask you, how much enjoying and embracing are you going to be doing if someone is standing over you with an iron fist?   How much more would you enjoy that chapter book, or National Geographic, or car repair manual (this is what my 14 year old reads for fun) if you're the one choosing to pick it up?   How much more would you appreciate having the skill of reading in your life if you came by it naturally... by having the people you love and trust sharing their joy of reading with you?  By being read to, by being surrounded by the written word, by playing games and asking questions and being curious?  NOT because you turned 4 (or 5 or 6 or whatever age schools these days are trumpeting as the 'right' age to start) and having it proclaimed to you, "Okay, time to learn to read!!"

You may think it's unfair of me to compare movies with reading.  One's a necessity, you're thinking, and the other is mere entertainment.   I disagree.  Both are forms of conveying information and telling stories.  Reading is an invaluable and important skill to develop, absolutely.   Reading opens up many doors, and makes us able to learn about anything that we desire, yes.  Reading helps us navigate through the world, and allows us to better understand what is happening around us, of course.  But if life is to be lived  (and heck yeah, LIFE IS TO BE LIVED) equally important is beauty... whether it comes from movies or books or poetry or dance.  Enjoying life is important.  Having passion for something is important.  And a great way to make sure that your child does NOT have passion for something - at least the positive kind - is by forcing them to do it against their will.

I recently received an email from a friend (a friend who I've long suspected is an unschooler at heart, even though her daughter currently attends school).  She told me about her daughter, a little seven year old, the same age as my Everett.  She's a girl who loved to read, and who'd often steal away to her favorite corners of the house to curl up with a book.   She then started second grade, where it was required as part of her homework that she read out loud for ten minutes every day.  In a matter of weeks, this little girl completely lost her love of reading, and instead began to dread it.  This from a child who actually liked to read!   What about the kids who are still learning, or who are focusing on other skills, or who just aren't ready?  Pushing them is going to, well, do just that:  push them further away.  It's not going to help them appreciate reading, and it's certainly not going to instill a love for the process.

Too many traditional schools are focusing more and more on 'academics', and at a younger and younger age.   They want kids to love reading so they.... try to force it?  They're going in the wrong direction.   Kids needs to PLAY, but because of increased pressures to ready them for standardized tests and college and SATS, there's no time for play.  No time for recess, or art, or music, or gym.  They must learn to read!  And they're going to enjoy it, dammit! 

The ironic part to me is that the system as it stands clearly isn't working.   Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  This is even worse than that though, because it's taking that same thing over and over and doing more of it.   More pressure.  More structure.  More homework.  More testing.  Meanwhile, more kids are depressed, angry, burnt out, exhausted, bullying others, getting bullied themselves, and getting put on all kinds of psychotropic drugs.   I can't be the only one who sees that there's a problem here.

Want your children to love reading?  Let them see that YOU love it.  Share with them.  Help them.  Support them.  Want your children to love learning?  Let them know that it's not a chore, or a burden, or a headache... but simply what we humans do.  Let them see that learning is all around them, and not something that happens at certain hours in certain places.  Want your children to be happy?  Let them be children.  Let them run and play and mess up and touch things and taste things and try things. 

Let them know that life is about joy and freedom and choices, not about getting forced into someone else's boxes. 

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