Julie A. Cunningham

Academic Advisor

Learning Schizophrenia

Photo credit: Amarand Agasi

This evening, I had an enlightening conversation with my 8 year old daughter, Abby. It started like this, “Mom, I’m going to be an artist for fun when I grow up, and a scientist for pay.” Of course, a statement like that begged to be questioned. The gist of the ensuing discussion was that she didn’t think she could make money to help the family as an artist and so she needed a ‘pay’ job.  My 10 year old son joined in at this point, sharing that he wanted to be a car mechanic for a job and to be an author/illustrator and fisherman for hobbies.

And I think this is where the rubber meets the road.  Over the last two years, I have personally vacillated between the need for basic educational competencies (not Common Core Standards, but a necessary level of base knowledge in order to be a contributing member of society) and the need for educational freedom (allowing students to lead their own learning). My children have been along for the ride on this back and forth philosophical journey, and I think that I have created a few serious cases of learning schizophrenia. They truly believe that some learning is work, and some is play.

With the best intentions, I have been insisting that my children learn some of the basics (work)  prior to being ‘freed’ to learn per their own interests and passions (play).  There are a number of reasons for that decision, but in essence I have been demonstrating to my children that some of life is work, and some of life is play.

Learning schizophrenia.

I’d much rather they decide to pursue a passion so that work is play to them. ((At this point, my husbandly proof reader notes that not all work can be play…. somehow, the laundry needs to get done.  However, they were not talking about chores- they were speaking of two separate careers– one for fun and one for work. That concerns me.))

And I’m stuck.  Because I do still think they need to have exposure to a wide variety of ideas in order to find their passion. I think to be ready for that passion they need to be able to:

  1. Learn independently
  2. Think critically
  3. Share globally

If my children can do those things, they are well prepared for life and any career path they choose.  They have the ability to read with understanding, to question what they learn, and to share their own ideas to more than just the English speaking world. That’s plenty.

Where does formal instruction come into play? I’m not sure. Right now, that’s what we are doing. I’m following a more classical model with my students, which has definite developmental stages and specific language and math goals.  My hope is that by the end of the dialectic stage (middle school, 8th grade), they will be fully equipped to do those three things so that they can follow their own learning journey.

In the meantime, I think the tension between those two ideas is subtly changing their outlooks on school/work and play…. which bothers me.

How do I stop the learning schizophrenia? What about the concept of a base body of knowledge that everyone should share in order to communicate? Is that base body changing from things like Huck Finn to the latest viral video? In this technological age, what are the new base competencies? (And I don’t think much of the math we require is necessary for life- I recently saw absolute value on an entrance test, and thankfully had taught it this year. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have remembered the symbols or concept from 25 years ago. But, I do know how to find out what it means and how to solve a problem with it.)

Just thinking out loud. Thoughts? (( My hubby also points out that this post clearly shows my confusion. Yes. I don’t have an answer. Clearly. But I’m hoping you can help me find one.))

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