Trust your kid’s curiosity regardless of their age

When I tell people that kids are curious and they educate themselves if you just give them space, people can’t imagine it. They can imagine it for themselves, as a adults, because they can think of tons of things they’d want to do and learn if they had unlimited time. But still, they don’t trust that kids would do that, too.

What it looks like is this letter that my son wrote to President Obama. It started out that my older son told my younger son that he would go to prison for lying. I said, “Kids don’t go to prison unless things are really really bad.”

They wanted to know what things, of course. Then they wanted to know why a kid would do something so terrible. Then they wanted to know where the parents were. And I told them most kids in juvenile prison need good parenting rather than a prison system.

The result of the conversation was a letter to the President. My older son said, “He’s not going to read that.”

I said, “I think someone reads every single letter the President receives. People get paid to do that.”

(Because my older son is in the car overhearing so many of my coaching calls he said, “Would an INFP be good at reading the President’s mail?”)

Soon after that, I read a Forbes article called In Defense of Skipping College and Enrolling in the Real World. Those of you who have been reading my other blog know that I’ve been saying for years that college today is a waste of time. So it’s not really news. But to summarize the conclusions: unless you can get into a top-ten school, you will get not jump on the job market by spending four years in college. You’re better off spending those four years trying to figure out where you fit in the world. Which is, after all, what school is supposed to give you: self-knowledge from exposing yourself to new ideas.

I used to jump for joy every time someone in the mainstream media said “skip college.” But now here’s what bugs me: they don’t say skip grade school, too. Really, it’s not a leap to realize that “skip college” also means “skip grade school.” But it’s a huge emotional step, because that would mean that all the people who are saying skip grade school would have to stop pontificating all day and hang out with their kids all day instead. Most of the people who have a big voice in the media are not staying home with their kids. So they are in no position to telling anyone to stay home with their kids.

Also, if you talk about how kids should skip college, you don’t have to force your kids to do that. After all, they are 18. They can decide for themselves. So you’re safe. But if you tell everyone to take their kids out of grade school then it’s hard for you to not do the same. Arguably, your kids are too young to make that decision, especially if all they’ve known is traditional school.

So I have a feeling that the reason we read so much about skipping college and so little about skipping grade school is that the media is made up of parents. And parents are afraid to trust kids to be curious enough to learn.

But when does anyone start being curious enough? The day you graduate high school? Probably not. Really young children learn language from a natural drive. And language is difficult. But that curiosity and drive doesn’t stop there. It continues, from the day we’re born until the day we die.

My son asked why President Obama cares about all the letters.

I said because his job is to be curious about what people in this country are thinking about.

My son said, “His job is to be curious? He gets paid for that? That’s a job anyone can do!”


10 replies
  1. B
    B says:

    I wish Obama would have been curious before he doubled the national debt and rammed socialized medicine down the country’s throat during a Christmas Eve session! True intellectual curiosity is not borne of selectively ignoring the viewpoints that surround this nation’s pressing issues.

    • Rita
      Rita says:

      I’m so glad I live in New Zealand! Wouldn’t ‘socialized medicine’ be a better use of everyone’s money than bombing the muslims?

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      (Wow, maybe not the best forum for this, since this was not what the post was about.To allay suspicions of only say so because I disagree, I agree as well about the debt and ACA–and about not drone striking / bombing–Rita).

  2. MBL
    MBL says:

    I love that your son is absorbing MB types. I feel that an INFP would be a poor candidate for letter reading if the goal is to determine which letters are worthy of passing up the chain. EVERY letter would have some merit and, thus be worthy of consideration.

    I understand that you wrote MOST “kids in juvenile prison need good parenting rather than a prison system.” And, while that may be technically true, I can’t help but feel that that must be a kick in the gut to the parents for whom that just isn’t the case. I pray I will never be in that position, there is zero evidence that I will be, but one never knows. Also, there are those who try to get help, but the ‘system’ utterly fails them and sometimes even undermines what the parents are willing to do.

    Other than that, GREAT post.

    Is the next step for Z to start brainstorming solutions given that safely and compassionately deal with juvenile crime? In particular, seemingly incorrigible cases. Obviously, this is a huge, minefield laden issue, but at what age is someone capable of addressing it? Why not start at 7 (I think that is his age)?

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      I know a man who runs a school for “incorrigible cases.” The behavior problems will have been so bad no one cares what they do or what standards are met as long as the kids are kept out of the way, so they have freedom to do whatever they want.

      The students agree that they are only there voluntarily and with a positive attitude. They decide as a group what kind of local problem or issue they want to address and they spend all the time needed, even if more than one year, planning and testing solutions.

  3. Julie
    Julie says:

    It is about control or maybe trust. You need trust in yourself and in your kids. It is a big leap of faith. It felt like a huge risk when we decided to homeschool. And then pulling back on the “school at home” model and letting them go with their own interests, whatever they might be, is another leap that feels very risky.

    When our daughter had problems in kindergarten we took her to a psychologist. The psychologist did not bring up homeschooling. But when I said I was thinking about it, she responded “I think that would be good.” So even though she knew my kid should not be in that school, she was not going to suggest homeschooling. I had to be the one to bring it up.

    Homeschooling is growing and I think it will continue to do so, but not because anyone in the media says it is better. It is more a word of mouth or grass roots movement. All the media is going to be able to do is monitor and then they will report on the extremes like they do with everything else.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s such a great story about the psychologist. It’s like homeschooling is always the elephant in the room. It makes sense to so many people but people are genuinely afraid to bring it up. Like it is bad manners or something.

      I guess it is bad manners in that it shakes up the foundation of our society. But in a way, I feel like the foundation is so broken that shaking it up is not that big a deal.

      I think people like that psychologist perceive that homeschooling is actually more revolutionary than it is. So many parents are already there mentally – they are just scared to lead, scared to go first.


  4. Elissa
    Elissa says:

    I think it’s so sad that we’ve taken curiosity out of learning. Students can achieve so much more when given more freedom to use learning to explore the world around them. Instead, learning is dull, controlled and consequently less effective than it could be. Literacy could be taught in every subject, so why not give students a little more freedom? I think project/problem based learning within small classroom settings would do wonders for our education system, particularly if we were to allow students more autonomy in their learning. I had a lesson jut yesterday with a boy preparing for an Opportunity Class entrance test (I know, I hate the concept myself), and we ended up researching three or four separate topics that came up through a comprehension activity. He was SO ENGAGED! He was so interested, that he just switched on. And even though he only managed to do one of the practice tests at the time, he learnt so much more, AND he gained a greater insight into his own interests and passions. Now he’s interested in space (we looked at why Pluto is no longer considered a planet, which led us to discussing the ISS, which he didn’t know existed, which led us to researching how many people currently live in space, which led us to research how they live up there, and so on). My point is, when students are interested, they can learn so much, and they WANT to KEEP learning. We should encourage that curiosity and foster it in our schools.

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