This is a picture of me and the boys at the music workshop we went to in Boston. You will notice that there are no instruments, and no teachers. This is because after two hours we left the camp and just did a trip to Boston.
In the past, this would have been a hard decision for me. We had been planning to do the workshop all summer. It was a week-long program that we flew half-way across the country for, and we were already in a hotel for a week whether we wanted to be or not. On top of that, it’s scary to quit stuff that everyone else is saying is great.
Now that I’ve gone through the process of taking my kids out of school, quitting other stuff is much easier. But even though I’ve built a career on bucking trends, going against social norms is never easy, no matter how many times you do it. Here are three ways I build confidence to buck trends.
1. Tell yourself you’ve already bucked this trend.
The truth is, the workshop was terrible. But it was terrible in ways that kids who go to school would be used to. For example, my older son’s group had a teacher student ratio of 1:30. Which might be fine if the kids all knew what they were doing. But the teacher was attempting to teach kids with a wide range of ability a new song, by ear.
My younger son was in a group with four other kids who didn’t want to be there. Believe it or not, my son has never been in a group of kids where they were being forced to do something they didn’t want. He was shocked that the kids would be doing something they didn’t want to. “They should just go home!” he said. He was also shocked that they did pranks on the teacher (setting an egg-timer to go off in the middle of class) and that they flat-out refused to play some songs.
2. Tell yourself you don’t have a choice.
A big reason for the generally poor behavior is that parents dropped their kids off. In most of the music programs we go to for young kids, the parents are there. Which is a subtle way of saying to the kids: “this class is worth your time because it’s worth my time.” In most of the music classes we go to, the kids and I learn together, because I’m learning how to help them practice. They know this, and they feel how important it is.
It was good for us to see how kids who go to school are used to learning new material. It was good fortification for how we are not choosing that path.
We spent a lot of time bike riding in Boston.
3. Accept that it’s too hard to buck trends all the time.
We biked through Boston University, where I went to graduate school for English and dropped out early when I realized there are no jobs for humanities professors. And we biked through Cambridge, where I spent most of my time as an undergraduate escaping to bookstores where I could read what I wanted instead of what my professors assigned.
But in Cambridge, I wavered. In Harvard Square, I got excited about the idea of my kids being traditional high performers. So I said, “This is a school you come to if you do something really special by showing intense commitment and talent for something you love to do.”
I chose my words carefully because I know I am not yet brave enough to give up the idea of getting my kids into to a “good college”.
My sons looked at me. They could tell I was making a point. Then my older son said: “Let’s just go back to the hotel room and have a pillow fight.”