Inspired vs. Required

It’s back to school time! While the memories of summer fade into our conscious, to be called upon in future years of eternal youth, young minds reluctantly transition into formal education mode. The thought of spending the next nine months sitting in a classroom cramming information into their brains is far from the glorious lessons learned on rope swings down by the river, swimming pools, and lemonade stands of summertime.

Square Peg, Round Hole

Square Peg, Round Hole

So why is it such a haunting proposition to return to the classroom this time every year? Why are our children not as excited about learning—the core purpose education—as they are about the freedoms of summer?

Today’s formal education conditions young people to jump through hoops, rather than train them to think for themselves.

Core curriculum and Standardized Testing provides checklists and incentives/consequences for the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of the duties outlined. Today, we require rather than inspire a healthy and effective learning process. We worry about skills, test scores, grade point averages and assignments rather than focusing on the process and the development of the whole person into a critical thinker and unique individual contributor with valuable ideas and a mission to fulfill in life.

These children grow up to work for organizations and continue the program they learned in childhood…. hoop jumping, get by, do your duty until their eyes glaze over from the combination of boredom and stress of today’s formal education process.

We applaud those who successfully jump through the hoops and we shake our heads at those who don’t. We forget that some of the greatest minds and contributors to our culture and civilization were children that we would have shaken our heads at in their youth because they couldn’t “hack” it. Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, as well as many of today’s movers and shakers come to mind.

What would happen if we took time to have great discussions with children? What would happen if we inspired them to learn all they could and then turn around and fulfill their life mission and inspire others in the process? What would happen if we stopped focusing on the outcome (scores, grades) and focused on how effective the process is? What would happen if we adults stopped being “the sage on the stage”, but rather the “guide by the side” and became fellow learners with children showing them how to effectively learn, lead, and apply during the process? What if we mentored them as a whole person and took delight in them and in drawing out their thoughts on various subjects?

When the inspired children grow up, how would that change the way they approached their careers? How would they lead others differently? How would that affect entire organizations as they started to hire employees that had the quiet confidence and desire to serve a higher cause that inevitably stems from having been treated with interest, and respect and given time and attention and encouragement to naturally grow in areas of weakness and strengths, rather than be criticized and measured by the results of cookie cutter tests?

The way we raise and teach our children conditions them to accept mediocrity and boredom and a state of disempowerment as the norm for their adult lives to the detriment of us all. There is a better way, but it is time-consuming, messy, harder, less measurable, but for sure more fulfilling. It’s time to rethink the way we teach our children to becoming healthy, happy, adults through the learning process.

 Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies and is CoAuthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning experience for Individuals in the workplace. He also a Master Trainer of Student Self Leadership, a leadership program designed for youth to be more effective collaborators and problems solvers in their schools and communities.

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  1. Loved your article. You are very right, if school was an exciting place that challenged thinking and inspired kids to learn, they would be bolting out of the door every morning before you could say “Jack Robinson”! Some time back, I tried to explore the same issue in one of my blog posts. Hope this can add to the discourse here… “Leaders Teach & Inspire” http://leadbychoice.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/leaders-teach-inspire/

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