Archive for the ‘Equally Shared Parenting’ Category

Unification

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So we’ve been a bit busy, as you can probably tell from the Gap That Was April. In that month, we had one out-of-town wedding, prep for another, taxes for home and business, two kid sports starting up, and the abrupt death of our faithful dishwasher. Forgiveness? Thanks. We’ll do better over the summer.

And speaking of, we looked up to find three weeks left on our homeschooling calendar. Just a double-dozen days of fitting everything in and we’ll be into the lazy – and welcome – days of summer. As I turned the calendar over, I started looking for a theme to the year – an overarching sense of mission, or purpose, or accomplishment, that I could find anchorage in. Was there something that tied it all together?

There was. But it was different for each of them.

For A, our five-intensity flathead V-8 made flesh, it was de-institutionalization. He’s had a workshirt and a nametag on for far too long, compared to the girls, and it was starting to show in a hundred little ways. But the most heartbreaking of them was his tendency to lean back, to wait for knowledge to be inserted or dispensed or otherwise given. He’s never been a taker of knowledge, and that changed this year. Slowly. Almost imperceptibly. But it changed. He’s looking now – for information, for inspiration, for meaning. He’s leaning forward, willing to participate, willing to work for his outcomes, rather than waiting for them to be served up – and it’s been wonderful to watch. I can’t wait to see how this plays out next year.

For H, our 2E emotional-intensive, it was comfort. For the entirety of her educational life, I’ve wished H a year to learn when she wasn’t concerned about hiding her disability, or worrying where it was going to surface next. I’ve wished her peace and unconditional support and the time and space to find what she is truly passionate about. This year provided all of that, and more, and it was a thing of absolute beauty to watch her learn to love history, to grow to want to improve her writing meaningfully, and – perhaps most importantly – to find a place to sit with math in comfortable silence, if not friendship. H needs space to find herself, to build something up from beneath her that will provide a platform for her to grow atop. She was never going to find that in a traditional school setting. It’s warmed my heart to see her find it here with us.

For E, our host child from the Crab Nebula, it was focus. E’s been guesting in the local GT program for the past two years, leading a split existence: two hours a day with me, on intensive writing and math and passion-project work, and then over to our local GT center school for some time being nine and ten, respectively. I wouldn’t begrudge her that time, looking back on it, but she’s grown more serious about having the time to pursue her passions, free of recess lineups and heat-lamp tater tots. This year was her opportunity to stretch out, to read everything she wanted to (even if – ahem – it was under the covers by flashlight), to stargaze the Perseids and sleep in the next day and work in her robe until noon. It was the year to show us the fire. She showed it to us, and its flame is beyond comprehension.

For me, it was spacing. Hockey coaches preach it like a mantra: motion, dispersed, active, aware. I learned to read them much better this year, to understand what it was they needed at any given moment. Sometimes, that was routine – the secure safety of the knowledge that tomorrow would parallel today, that what was asked of them on Tuesday would be asked of them on Thursday, too. Sometimes, though, it was disruption: that precisely the opposite was true.

So what do we do next year? Find a new theme. New focus. New energy. New tasks and architectures and ways of working. We build on what we found, keeping the best, discarding the rest. We move forward with a sense of passion and purpose.

But first, it’s time for a break. Because passion derives from the spaces between things – and it’s time for some between.

Pink and Blue

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Statistically, you won’t like this post. You won’t identify with it, won’t understand it, and won’t care for many of the points I’m going to make.

That’s OK. You can leave if you want. I’ll wait.

<drums fingers>

Fine. Still with me? You’re probably a homeschooling mom with a husband who’s not super-involved in the task of teaching your kids. He’s probably got a busy job, and you ended up taking over this responsibility. Am I right so far?

If I am, that’s because you’re the statistical norm. I’m the outlier – I’m a husband who, like his wife, works part-time and homeschools part-time. In our house, everybody fights; everybody eats. We don’t have assigned roles. That dishwasher has no gender, and neither does the checkbook, the math curriculum, the garbage cans or the household repairs that need doing. If you buy 1950s-style gender roles, that’s fine. We don’t, and neither of us takes kindly to being pigeonholed by society in responsibility sets that were starting to lose relevance when Ford was President. So when Facebook sites post sexist cartoons portraying moms as the exclusively beleaguered providers of kid-related everything, it sets my teeth on edge.

Mostly that’s due to the fact that this is happening in your experience. In your home. In your perceptual set. And it may be true for you, but it isn’t true for everyone. There’s a strong human drive to make our own experiences the common experiences, to belong to something greater than ourselves that includes and validates our own way of life. We want to feel that those things that make us laugh make others laugh, and that those things that make us cry make others cry, and that our joys and miseries are one with a greater body of such sensations. We like to paint red and white rings around the spot the arrow landed. That’s natural – but if the goal is progress, or change, and not just self-pity, it can be counterproductive.

Here’s what endlessly fascinates me about these posts: they ‘gender’ the task of educating children. It’s women’s work. I’ve posted before about how untrue this was millennia ago, how the natural state of a human family is in sharing the task of teaching children to grow into responsible adult members of society. But you’ve been taught differently. And recently. In fact, you’ve been taught so many wrong things that it’s worthwhile to talk through a checklist of them. We’ll start off easy, though; we’ll start with something you know is right – or at least something you think you know is right. We’ll start with pink…and blue.

That’s easy, right? Didn’t a hundred visuals just flash before your eyes? Pink is for girls and blue is for boys. It always has been, hasn’t it? Didn’t your own mom teach you that? She was probably born in the 40s or 50s, and even her mom might have taught her that. But maybe she didn’t; consider that, just three generations ago, these colors were completely reversed.

…a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” (Smithsonian Magazine)

1918. It’s taken a hundred years, a blink of an eye in human existence, to get you to agree that black is white and white is black. That’s all. A hundred years. A hundred years ago, men taught their sons, sitting behind them on tractors, palm atop palm, working a stick shift for the first time in blazing Midwestern sun. Fathers squatted in rich black earth and explained how to rotate crops, how nitrogen was fixed in plants, how to manage the seasonality and risk of farm economics. None of this would have been outsourced. To whom could it have been, anyway?

A hundred years later, you believe that education is women’s work, and so does your husband. That’s wrong. The saddest part is not that you believe it; it’s that he believes it. You believe lots of things, don’t you? So when the loan officer tells you that your home mortgage shouldn’t be more than 20% of your household earnings, did you question whether it should be much less? Did you question whether, in an era of 300,000-mile duty lives, it’s necessary to have a new car every four years? Did you question anything being pushed at you as society’s norms?

I think you did, and I think that’s how you ended up here, but maybe you stopped short. Maybe there’s more thinking to be done about whose responsibility homeschooling is, and whether it might make sense to make room for this vitally important task in your lives instead of forcing it into cracks and crannies and gaps between more societally endorsed actions.

In the end, I don’t care whether you do or not, because I don’t write this blog for you. I write it for my son, and for my daughters, and for the men and women they will marry someday. I write it to impress on them the need to question what they’re being told. I hope the lessons sink in – because I hope that, someday, they’ll see a post like this and tell their own kids, “You know what’s funny about that? Let me tell you a story about when pink used to be the color for boys.”

Pushmi-Pullyu

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Despite Susan Wise Bauer’s advice, I don’t always feel like quitting in November – but I’m glad the month is over, and we’re on to the long, pleasant glideslope into the holidays. It’s not really that quitting comes up as a desirable option, because we’ve got responsibilities to each of them that require our time and effort; I can no more ‘quit’ work or laundry or cooking than I could ‘quit’ homeschooling. But I do often find the need to take a deep breath and remind myself what I’m doing – namely, offering an environment in which skills can be developed and knowledge obtained. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s nothing magical about homeschooling. It’s still an interaction between and among scholars. If there is a difference, it’s that we acknowledge the fundamental nature of learning: while I’m happy to share what I know,  ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the student to learn. I don’t push; you pull.

In a fifteen-year consulting career (and going), I’ve often been told that I’m a good salesman, and I generally take a moment when I get that compliment to deflect it. I’ve never sold a consulting engagement in my life, I like to say. Plenty of clients have bought one from me, but I’ve never sold one. Selling implies some degree of sleight of hand, some aspect of false demand, that I take exception to. I like to think that I’ve gotten clients excited about the prospects that a given engagement or project might have for their business, or the outputs or applications of a quantitative tool or re-engineering process. That’s fine. But in the end, they’ve all bought something they wanted.

Similarly, I don’t think of what I do as teaching. That word is a cousin to selling in that it somehow implies push. I’m all about pull. I’m happy to expose my kids to subjects and concepts and disciplines and skills, but in the end, it is up to them to reach out and take them. I’m equally happy to go on ‘content walkabout’ to find new, interesting things that might fire their imagination. That’s how we found Algebra Touch and Little Bits and Slooh, among a sea of other such tools and technologies and, frankly, cool stuff. I’ll put these things in their path, pull the kids aside to talk about them, sit down with them to run through something once. I’m looking, frankly, for spark, because spark is the beginning of pull.

But I don’t push. Because there’s a day when there’s no one to push, except themselves, and what then? Sure, in one sense, I hope they’ve learned to push themselves, because there are moments that you do need to push yourself: reaching a personal savings goal, or lowering your golf score, or leaving the last slice of Lou Malnati’s alone. But that’s a very Tiger Mom-ish perspective, and not all of life works on push. The larger things, the important things, will be done with pull. In a larger sense, I hope they learn to pull themselves – to keep identifying the activities and concepts and hobbies and careers that incite passion in them.

Part of the challenge is that there’s still a part of them that is waiting to be pushed to, waiting for education to happen, and I have to remind them that this is an environment for skill development and knowledge acquisition. Want some? Get some. Want more? Get more. Want nothing? Get nothing, most likely – or get what you keep by sheer luck or happy accident. If I allowed myself to become offended, or get to the point of wanting to quit, based on their consumption, I’d be in a lot of trouble. I don’t. I’m in the business of fomenting pull. I’m a pull provocateur – not a push pimp.

But yes, I’ll be re-reading this post again in February, probably when I feel myself starting to push again.

Turkey, Interrupted

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I’d be hard pressed to tell you what year it is in our family room right now.

My wife is seated on a couch we purchased in 2005, piecing together a thousand-piece Christmas jigsaw puzzle based on a painting from 1958. My daughter is reading a book published in 1980 on a Kindle Paperwhite from 2012. I’m writing this on a 2013 laptop straight from the Dell box, a long-overdue tech refresh, while listening to music from the Montpelier Codex, a 13th-century book of vocal music, on an album released in 1994 and available to me through 2012 tech Spotify.

Oh, and by the way: we’re doing all of this in the wake of putting another cultural touchstone to the test, because none of us can stand turkey.

“Are you grateful for turkey?” I asked them this year. Heads shake in mute dissent. “Then why don’t we eat something we’re grateful for?”

“I thought we were supposed to eat turkey for Thanksgiving.”

“We’re not. We’re supposed to be grateful. If tryptophan stimulates your gratitude synapses, great. Otherwise, why don’t we come up with a meal featuring foods that do trigger those synapses? Why don’t we eat something we can chew and taste and swallow with a smile?” The resulting table did not look much like a Norman Rockwell print, but we were grateful for the food we ate, for the time we spent together cooking and baking it, and the fact that we focused the holiday on the mindset, rather than the meal.

This is the sort of thing that begins to happen with more regularity when you start homeschooling full time: everything falls under the lens of re-examination, and not all of it emerges on the other side. The way it’s always been done ceases to have a great deal of meaning when you’re forging entire curricula anew. Their scholarly time begins to migrate from the compliant – I need to finish multiplying these mixed numbers, Dad! – to the critical: when do I use this? What problems are relevant for this theorem? Is there a better way? And along the way, we discover – often, together – that the status quo is just bullshit. We are, in many ways, like the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlamp – not because that’s where we dropped them,  but because the light is better there.

Now, I hesitate to teach them that all that has gone before them is bullshit, because that tends toward a certain cultural nihilism that leaves them with a blank (and bleak) page to fill in on their own. But I also find myself with a responsibility to let them question the status quo and make their own decisions, and so with that in mind, we went in search of whether we were discarding a deep and historically relevant tradition, or another made-up Hallmark holiday. They’re always deeply disturbed to find out how recent all of this modern American culture is, and to be honest, so am I. Thanksgiving as a concept is an old holiday, dating to 1863, but it has only been since 1939 that the holiday has been celebrated in anything like its modern form, and only since 1947 that turkey became the gustatory meme of the season.  Nor did the Pilgrims likely eat turkey as the centerpiece of the meal; that would have been venison, courtesy of the Wampanoag (who were not, in fact, invited to dine with the Pilgrims, but simply happened by and felt bad that such a large number of people were eating eels and radishes and parsnips and liverwort). So we’re neither celebrating the original eely, parsnip-y Thanksgiving, nor are we honoring any sort of centuries-old tradition, either. But doesn’t it feel that way?

Weirder yet, most of our major holidays have comparatively recent scaffolding to them, at least in their secular forms. Santa in his current jolly red-and-white form dates to about 1906 (not the 1930 Coca-Cola myth, but not a great deal earlier, either.) Trick-or-treating only became a national holiday convention in the late 1940s, having begun in the Western U.S. and Canada and then stalled in its eastward expansion by wartime sugar rationing. What our kids tend to think of as timeless staples of holiday activity were relatively new to my own parents, and by the time I came along, many had been in place only for a few decades.

Weird, isn’t it? But these and other ‘givens,’ I teach them, are anything but. Credit cards in their current form were first issued in 1958. Automobile leasing – now considered just one among many acquisition options – was unheard of prior to the prime lending rate reaching 21.5% in December of 1980. Modern consumer advertising had its origins with the growth of television and suburban commuter populations in the late 1950s (and we’ve watched it grow up, in infinity-lens fashion, through Mad Men.) We tend to treat virtually anything that existed prior to our birth as belonging to a timeless, eternal continuum, but in reality, our own parents saw customs, goods, services, and cultural tropes born during their own lifetimes. So have we, and it seems normal to us, but to my children, life before the Internet must have been unthinkably primitive and bizarre.

From literature to mathematics to civics to science, we teach a common mantra: take from what has been done before, but never accept it as a flawless and unassailable brushed-steel given. In our house, we tend to borrow the best and question the rest, much like the crazy quilt of centuries in my living room right now. ‘Because we’ve always done it that way’ is a wobbly, worm-eaten plank at best – and we’ve found it to make fine firewood, the better to finish a jigsaw puzzle by.

Third Time’s A Charm

This fall we’re at it again. For the third year in a row, we’ll be taking a child (our son, age 7) out of the local GT program and homeschooling him. He’ll join his sisters, age 10, in homeschooling full-time. We’re all excited, because this means more time, more fun, and more learning together. It means being able to stand back and watch, up close, their amazing brains and personalities. I would have never guessed the capacity for a human brain to learn something until we started homeschooling. It is nothing short of astounding.

Thankfully, though, this is our last child. Why do I say thankfully? Because Dave and I have learned some lessons ourselves after we’ve done this two years in a row. So I thought I would share what we’ve learned, and, as an added bonus, we’ll both have this post to look back on when things get dark, and we get scared. Because, as Yoda said, “you will be.”

1. Halloween is not only All-Hallow’s Eve, but also the date at which we will be convinced this is absolutely not working, and we need to send him back to school. By Christmas, everything will be fine. By spring break, we’ll be wondering how he ever went to school.

2. We will need to start from the beginning. No, the actual beginning. Even though the school says that he knows how to write a sentence, read a book, or perform basic math functions, none of these things are completely true. We will need to find out what he knows and doesn’t know, and in some cases, go back to kindergarten level.

3. There are some things he knows at a much higher level than we thought. He will show us what he really knows on these topics, and then we will stare wide-eyed at each other in amazement.

4. There will be days, or weeks (hopefully not months) in which we’ll be fighting. A lot. He’ll be fighting because he hasn’t ever really had to learn, and we’ll be fighting because we don’t understand how he learns. Eventually, we’ll all figure it out.

5. He will have no concept of how to study for a test.

6. He will not know how to critically read a piece of writing, or make inferences.

7. He will not know how to effectively find the answers to his own questions.

8. He will move through some subjects, and grade levels, faster than we thought he ever could.

9. He will find a passion, and in this area, we won’t be able to stop him from anything.

10. He will find confidence and joy. And so will we.

So here’s to the rainy days, the dark days (let’s be honest – jet black), and the sunny days ahead for all of us. It just might be a while before the sun comes out.

 

 

We’re participating in a blog hop this week with Gifted Homeschoolers Forum on “Homeschooling: Where and How to Begin.”

Check out the other posts on this topic!

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Neurons Lost and Found Along the Way

Last week had all the makings of a busy one for us: my extended family was in town, my nurse practitioner was out of town, Dave had several project deadlines, and the kids had their usual activities. I spent the week running from one thing to the next, barely remembering to get gas in the car and dinner on the table. I did, however, take time to savor the small moments that make my life “alive”: those connections, like neurons, that strengthen as they are used more. Soaking in the sun as my baby niece swam in the pool for the first time, or listening to Dave discuss his breakthroughs as he tackles projects in his mind while he executes them. Sitting with a patient grieving the loss of her husband. Laying down with my son who lost his fish, or stopping to hug my daughter, one more time. Lounging on the couch while my daughters excitedly showed me their project – a Minecraft model of ancient Jericho.

Each of these moments, these connections, served to remind me how our life as a family has evolved.  Dave and I homeschool the kids together, and we both work part-time.  Summers are really no different, other than we use more of an unschooling method, trying not to do any formal instruction. Our kids explore what they want to –  we sweeten the pot by giving Renaissance Festival money for writing book reports – but otherwise they are free to do as they choose.

Keeping up with their inquiries is challenging, and here’s where homeschooling with a partner is immensely helpful. Truth be told, my brain cannot immediately recall practically anything outside of practicing internal medicine. I did years of high-level math, U.S. History, Latin, Greek, chemistry, physics, and (non-human) biology. My kids will come to me with questions about the structure of molecules, the timeline of Roman history, the evolution of snails – you name it. Questions that years ago, I might have been able to answer from memory. However, years of medical training and practicing have crowded out those neurons for more important, day-to-day activities (such as remembering 20 different passwords to access the medical records systems that don’t speak to one another.) My internal medicine neuronal connections have strengthened over time, while others have faded. Dave, based on the diversity of his business, can certainly recall much more than I can off the top of his head, but even he has a limit to what he can retain.

So, when the kids come to us with a question, we decide, on the spot, whose “area” this falls into. Biology – mine. Anthropology – Dave. Chemistry – mine. Writing – Dave.  Colonial History – me. Calculus – Dave. Even if one of us can’t recall specifics of what the kids are wanting to learn, we are likely to have at least some distant neuronal connections in there that we can dust off and help flicker to life.  We also do what all good homeschooling parents do – we teach the kids how to find and learn the information themselves. Efficient retrieval, assessment, and synthesis of information is a core value skill for both Dave and I, since we use these skills every day in our jobs. We also like to model for the kids that we don’t know everything we’ve studied (I’m certain at least half of what we both learned in medical and graduate school 20 years ago is now inaccurate anyway) and show them how we find answers to our own questions.

As we homeschool together, I sometimes picture Dave and I as halves of one brain. Strengthening connections in ourselves, between each other, and with our kids as we learn – and re-learn – about the wondrous, fascinating world around us.

We are participating in a blog hop this week through Gifted Homeschoolers Forum on “Homeschooling With/Without A Partner.” Check out the other blog posts on this topic!

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Millennial Spearhunting

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An atlatl is a remarkable thing.

I’ve actually held one of the earliest known examples in my hands (with latex gloves), and while I know I’m probably ascribing otherworldly qualities to it, the thing just exuded confidence. It had been held, and flicked, thousands of times at a very early, distant point in human prehistory. At one point, this device I now held had made all the difference for one hunting family. Using it had changed everything about their spear throws – velocity, accuracy, and, ultimately, killing power. Once the atlatl appeared on the scene in the Combe Sauniere in France, it spread like wildfire, throughout Europe and over the Bering land bridge into North America, for one simple reason. It was a transformational piece of hunting technology, made effective through training and practice. To hunt without it was to go forth at a severe competitive disadvantage in sourcing food: overnight, the playing field for daily nutrition changed, all because of one simple device.

Why do I bring this up? Because my kids are going to have one – the modern version, anyway – and they’re going to learn to use it, right by my side. Your kids might; given that you’re reading our blog, their chances are excellent. Most kids in public school won’t – and the ultimate outcome for them doesn’t look pretty. This fact is driven by two emerging fractures in modern education, which are collectively driving a widening wedge between school and life.

The first fracture is technological. A little backstory: in 1977, my father brought home one of the earliest dedicated word processors, a great big humming machine the size of a filing cabinet, complete with eight-inch floppy disks. It was pretty amazing at the time, and he even let me do a little schoolwork on it – against Caterpillar corporate policy, I’m sure, but whatever. I found it thoroughly fascinating. For the first time, documents could be stored digitally and edited endlessly before committing them to paper. But despite how revolutionary this moment was, just three years later, our family owned its functional equivalent, in the form of an Apple II. Two years after that, Apple IIs showed up in our junior high computer lab. Total elapsed time from my first look at the technology to its public-school adoption: five years.

Cue the starry-eyed optimism of the 1980s. At the time, we really thought that this process would only accelerate over time, to the point where schools would adopt real-world work processes and technologies faster and faster, until they virtually mirrored each other. But, in retrospect, it’s pretty clear that patient zero, in the form of the Apple II, was really as good as it ever got – and then only because Apple was shoving dollars at the educational market as fast as they could be spent. Over time, what was in public-school computer labs fell further and further behind what was being used in business; even Apple abandoned its educational mission, in large part. Today, I walk into our public school, and there are some of the last CRT-based, 1024×768 tube monitors on Earth. You couldn’t go out and buy a CRT monitor today if you wanted to.

The contrast between school and homeschool is pretty stark. We don’t even use flatscreen monitors exclusively in homeschooling any more. The iPad’s become our go-to tech of choice in our house, for everything from Dragonbox to Khan Academy videos to Algebra Touch. For more advanced work that does involve monitor time, we’re aiming for a directly transparent relationship between what we use professionally (Mathematica, SPSS, Google Docs/Word/Excel, Photoshop, Illustrator, SlideRocket) and what they learn to use at home. Because this is what we hunt with. These products are the atlatls of our day. In ten years, our daughters will be out on the veldt of the modern labor market, armed only with what we’ve given them – and it’s our job to make sure they’re ready.

The second fracture is sociological, and I reference it, increasingly, to explain why I’m involved in homeschooling as a father. It’s simple: we’ve become confused about what the ancestral role of a father is, and what the alternative role is.  Ten thousand years ago, the only fathers who didn’t take their sons (and daughters!) hunting were crippled or dead – and even then, their children went forth with uncles and cousins and grandfathers. This was done for one simple reason: there is no way to learn to hunt in the abstract. It’s not something you could read up on (not that hunting techniques were being documented beyond the wishful) or discuss into skilfulness around the campfire. Hunting, like so many things, was learned by doing. Fathers took their children hunting, because to do so was to teach them how to survive in the world1.

And then – rather suddenly on the scale of history – fathers (in particular) grew comfortable with outsourcing those tasks. That began as the Industrial Revolution took hold and showed us a world in which children could learn life skills en masse, just like the products being produced in the factories of the day. It’s no coincidence that the rise of industrial America from 1876 – 1900 overlapped with the beginning of the Progressive Movement in education, spanning from the 1890s to the 1930s. During that time, the United States saw a dramatic expansion in the number of schools and students served, especially in the fast-growing metropolitan cities. Learning became an assembly-line task, and just as the education of any one child became unimportant compared to the need to educate large volumes of children, so too did the need for a family member to teach fall by the wayside. The tasks to be mastered were common to all, and so the process of teaching became one that a third party could take on. At the same time, the ability of parents to involve their children in their work vanished, shattered on the factory floors of the age. For every family, at some point in history, there was a singular moment when work and education split: fathers went off to work one morning, and children to school, the two divided along a fracture between the real world and the educational system’s abstraction of that world.

In the earliest days, that fracture was small, or even – for those children who left school in the afternoon and went directly to work in a factory or on a farm – nonexistent. But over time, it’s widened, exacerbated by the technological divide. With each passing year, school has fallen further and further behind the realities of modern working life; today our kids are learning roughly all the same things they learned in 1980. There’s Palmer-method cursive to be practiced and wedding-cake long division to be waded through and a seemingly never-ending fountain of facts to be memorized – despite the fact that we live in an era of texting and Evernote and ubiquitous calculators and a human knowledge base exploding exponentially year by year2. These kids are heaving spears by hand in the atlatl age.

Worse, we’re not talking just about the fracture between our public-school education and the working world in our own nation: we’re talking about the fracture between our public-school education and the preparation necessary to compete in a global economy. Being from a Cat family, I distinctly remember the arrival of that word processor coinciding with my father’s grim pronouncement that Cat had lost a deal to Komatsu for the first time. It made an impression on me at the time: new thinking and new tech will be necessary now. The good news? We had an atlatl. The bad news? Everyone else had one, too. Yet, in the intervening decades, we haven’t taken the globalized economy seriously in the most important of venues – our educational system – and as a result, we fall further and further behind every year. And we just don’t care. If we did, we’d be doing something about it. 

Once upon a time, the risk of having an obsolete survival skillset was simply too great to take on, and mothers and fathers taught their children. It’s our belief that we are there once again, on the cusp of a great disjunction in how they are to make their way in this rapidly-evolving world, and that parents – fathers and mothers alike – need to face that fact head-on. Public education is providing neither the tools nor the training necessary to hunt effectively – so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do so. To the extent possible, they see what we use to make a life for ourselves: coding languages and wireless hotspots and knowledge management systems and tablet tech. I let them watch me work up client market pursuit models and brand positioning plans and collateral deployment schedules. They ask questions, and I answer them directly.

If we’d lived ten thousands years ago, those questions would’ve frightened away something large and tasty that we as a family probably needed for the night’s repast. I’d have to caution them, then; questions have their place and time, and crouched in the brush, atlatl in hand, is not the time. Is hunting with my children alongside me as efficient as hunting alone? No, it’s not; anyone who’s ever visited Costco alone, or with kids in tow, knows this difference intimately. But by hunting with them, I show them the skills that they need to learn, and in the end, we all eat – together.

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1 The original ‘quality time.’ 

2Yes, I know that the counterargument is that human knowledge has always exceeded the learning and retention capacity of any one individual. That old saw gets wheeled out every time this datapoint is mentioned. But that argument starts to lose its weight when the exponential nature of ongoing knowledge growth is considered. It’s like saying that there’s no need to worry about a coming hundred-year tsunami based on experience managing a few inches of water in a post-thunderstorm flooded basement.