I am at the age where my peer group is having kids, and I have elected (along with my wife) to not have kids. The thing that I believe is that it takes a village to raise kids, and I like the idea of being that crazy uncle. In a former life, I was on the path of “the educator”. I love learning, and I love watching the spark come alive in people when I find the right combination of ideas in the the proper sequence to unlock ideas in another person.
When I look and think about the kids that I'm watching grow up via facebook. I can't help but think about the world that they are growing up into. Who are they going to become? What are they going to do? How is their school going to prepare them for the unknown?
Disclaimer: In no way do I have a clue about what is best for your child. Instead, I'm relaying my thoughts and experiences, and I'll let you do what you want with them.
These days, in the context of children, I think mostly of education. The ironic thing is that when I was growing up, I hated school. Absolutely, without a doubt, hated it with a passion. I hate memorizing stupid dates, names, and other things that I can't use. The goal of education is noble: we want to enrich the minds of students so they can lead prosperous lives. Children should grow up to be knowledgeable and intelligent adults.
Intelligence is a difficult thing to measure. And, we humans, love to measure. It's a simple industrial revolution idea: once you can measure it, then you can manage it. I pose a simple thesis: useful intelligence is not measurable anymore.
The rules to the game of life are ever changing. The moment you figure out how to measure, optimize, standardize, and win at the current set of rules; the rules change such that the old tricks no longer work. And, by rules, I mean the competitive landscape, what works, what is relevant, what skills you need, and any other things that you need to survive as a successful adult. I believe that if these children want to grow up and have successful lives, then their parents need to start preparing them for the unknown. School curriculums… do not do this.
Before I get off on the deep end and criticize school curriculum with a tar brush, I should admit that I was a C+/B- student in special-ed (not the “gifted” class). Besides giving me a severe case of imposter-syndrome, my formative years in elementary, middle, and high school were not predictors of my future. The only thing I got from my formative years was a great group of friends and good memories of the library (I spent three school hours out of seven in the library…). After that, I went to a state school where I excelled.
University is where my passion for learning came into relevance. The key word is is “relevance”. I've always loved to play on computers in one fashion or another. When I was 16, I was working at an engineering firm doing tech stuff and I built one of the first intranets. I started more projects than anyone I knew, and I learned many things. I educated myself, and when I went to university: I had serious questions.
I have an odd shame where I look at my past work and think “it's amatuer crap”; this thought, I have to remind myself, is toxic. My old work, while shoddy, was the work of someone exercising their creativity. “Creativity” is what we need to be “educating” students. Kids need to be creative. Creativity is the motive power to attack the unknown and beat it into submission via invention.
How do we maximize kids creativity? That's a good question. It's simple: let them be kids and explore the world. Don't trap them in a damn class-room unless it's teaching just the basics of communication; anything else, is useless. I thought about throwing in math, but math is useless unless you need it to create something. You may find my thoughts about math to be paradoxical, but the reality is that computers do, in fact, reduce the common situations to punching numbers into a system. My personal feeling is that early math education simply makes people worse at the abstract thoughts needed in creativity based mathematics.
My core thesis is that the formative year curriculum were not very important to my ascension to adulthood. My success is entirely driven by my creativity. The best thing my parents did for me was to get my a computer and leave me alone. That being said, there is another component where our schools actually make life hard for children.
Grades and ranking. This idea is, in my opinion, very toxic. You get a D, and your life is over. Your parents will punish you. Bad things happen to D students. You get two Ds, then you might as well just give up.
The word I'm wanting to weave in here is “risk”. Students that get perfect grades… don't take risks; they work hard and deliver what is asked of them. I believe that success in this world comes from a healthy understanding of risk. The problem in taking risks is that you might fail. You get the big fat “F”, and then you have to deal with disappointed parents who make you feel terrible. Failure sucks, I get it. I've failed and fallen down more times than I care to admit, but I'm still standing. Perhaps, this is survivorship bias.
In my opinion, failure isn't the worst thing. The worst thing is to not try something you want due to fear of failure. Unless the thing you want to do is going to probably kill you, then there's no reason to run away from it. If the thing you want to do is going to kill you, then it might be worth just for the story alone. Living life, I believe, is best done with a proper respect for risk.
Summary: I have no sage like advice to change the world, but a series of questions. How do we encourage and allow creativity to thrive? How do we reduce the fear of failure? How do we teach proper risk management? How do we reduce the risk of failure for students taking less economically-viable paths? To me, these are the questions that I think are important in raising kids today for a successful tomorrow. Especially in the coming post-apocalyptic world where we will be surrounded by all this junk that will be needed to be transformed into a sustainable world.