While I love the work I do at Compass, sometimes I begin to feel that our voices are dim compared with the bellows of anxiety for far-off goals, certification, measurement, and the like.
Very justifiably, parents are concerned about their children’s futures. They may be feeling like they are failing as parents by not equipping their children with a certain skill set by the time they reach adulthood. Is my child competent enough in math to get by in life? What will happen to him if his writing skills are not sufficient to succeed in university? Am I closing doors for her? Just think how many more jobs could be available to him if he were bilingual! I know these thoughts well since my partner and I are choosing a non-traditional educational path for our own kids; the concern of bilingualism was my own, rummaging around in my head just last night.
I know the allure of succumbing to the constant worry about the future. What a relief it would be on some level to plunk my children in a French school! But with the constant focus on the future, we may neglect the attributes our children are acquiring in the present – qualities and skills that are more nebulous and harder to explain to the grandparents – by making the choices we have. These skills are more difficult to measure beyond having a happier child and better functioning home life. Side effects of choosing an alternate learning path to school may include:
- the tendency to listen to one’s self
- greater self-knowledge
- the practice of happiness
How many mistakes could we, as adults, have avoided if we had developed these skills as children? Why does math take precedence over self-knowledge? A second language over joy? I do not believe it has to be either/or and do not mean to frame it as such. Our kids can acquire both knowledge about the world and in themselves; it just might not be at the pace or on the schedule society expects – no, dictates. Kids can learn things in gulps – things that schoolchildren might have been steadily sipping for years. We just have to trust in their thirst.
But, you argue, don’t we know more about the world than our children? Isn’t it our job to guide them? Of course. That’s why when we meet to discuss the upcoming year, we refer to them as “family meetings”. The discussion must centre on the goals, wishes, and concerns of everyone – parents and teens alike. However, at the core of it, we must all remember that childhood should not be sacrificed on the altar of anxiety about the future. That, in fact, “the best preparation for a meaningful and productive future is a meaningful and productive present” (principle #7 of our ‘7 Principles’ adapted from North Star).
This morning I thought I would turn, as I usually do, to our teens for some inspiration. I asked them “what if Compass didn’t exist?” One of our teens, an artist working to build her portfolio for admission to an animation program, responded: “I’m so much more productive now that I’m not at school.” I asked her if she ever has concerns about her future without a high school diploma. She responded that she feels she will be better prepared for her admission into college because she is able to pour her energy into something she loves and which is exactly tailored to her future goals.
Other teens responded with more succinct phrases to my query: “The world would be a suckier place.” “I would be in a crappy school and not in an environment where I can learn what I want to learn and where I feel welcomed.” “If I wasn’t at Compass I would probably be at home with few friends and completely anti-social and hating humanity.”
But the response that will keep me buoyed up in the purpose of my work for a long, long time is the following: “I was so depressed when I was in school. I don’t know if I would even still be around if Compass didn’t exist.”
We may get caught up in the anxiety of the future to the detriment of the present occasionally. It may sometimes serve a useful purpose to goad us into action. But we, as a society need to start remembering that young people actually do want to learn in a way that stems from their joy and inner drive, not anxiety and outer pressure. Otherwise, the costs may be unacceptably high.