Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Desire to Learn

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A's on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean's lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.” ― John Holt

I posted this poem on Facebook this week and one of my dearest friends (who I consider a sister really) posted this comment, "Only problem is, when everyone is special, no one is." Needless to say my friend is not a homeschooler so her thoughts are coming from a completely different point of view. I'm not sure if I hit a sensitive spot as she was always the top of her class, on the honor roll, a very talented musician, and I'm proud to say she is a very successful doctor.

I wish I could say I was on the honor roll...I had my times on it...but it was a struggle. We both went to the same school for part of grade school and high school and I will say at times the education at that school was less than adequate. I can in all honesty say I did not get taught history in high school and learned most of what I know in college. (which was DIFFICULT) Part of the difference between her and I was she had/has a huge drive to succeed. It wasn't that I did not want to succeed but...well, I don't know, our personalities were just different. I do remember the importance of getting good grades so my parents would be proud. It felt like grades were not necessarily the proof that I had learned something though, but instead a way to make my parents happy.

With homeschooling our children we do not ever do "grades" or "scores" and only the yearly mandatory standardized tests or the occasional test of skills with lessons like our online math when there are quizzes. In fact, (and I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not ;) when people ask what grade A & Z are in they look at me! We do not pay a whole lot of attention to what grade they are in...we just continue on learning the next progressive step after they master a certain educational goal.

 My response to my friend was- I don't think that is what the quote is least that's not what I get from it. More so, that innately I believe kids want to learn new things in a discovery sort of way, with the motive of wanting knowledge because they are curious about something. This rather than wanting to please someone else (like a parent) or do better than someone else. (like a peer or sibling) It does seem to go away when learning becomes all about a test, which does become necessary eventually if someone wants to get a college degree. 

I know in the next couple of years I will probably start keeping track of scores more as Z will need more thorough records for her high school years as she does plan on going to college. For now though, I want to continue to encourage their natural curiosity to learn because they WANT to discover or find the answer. Yes, there are subjects they are learning that are mandatory, but beyond that is where our eclectic bordering on unschooling kicks in.  For now we will continue to explore the world around us and keep that curiosity going as long as we can!


  1. I really enjoyed this post and the topic you present here.

    You know the me BC (before children) was alot like your friend. I was an over achiever. School and organization skills came easy for me. Often, I was resented by others (classmates and even family members). I could never understand why?

    UNTIL....I had a child diagnosed with ADD and placed him in the school system. I believe, like your post suggests, the school creates an environment that bases student "success" by comparing students to other students, instead of comparing a child to him or herself.

    To further add to this discussion, schools are also inherently designed to accomodate those who are more adept at learning in a clasroom environment, furthering this feeling of alienation and disappointment in those who learn differently. It can create a feeling of disdain for those who are succeeding.

    Lately, I have been reading up on the Tao philosophy that explains that when we chose to define beauty...we also unwillingly define what is not. We also define ugly.

    When we compare ourselves to others, do we set ourselves up to be feel "ugly" or perhaps even "superior"?

    My son often feels "ugly". I am sure there are many others who feel similarly.

    However, resenting those who are beautiful can turn them into potential victims as well.

    I believe the secret, is not to compare.

    Schools need to create systems that measure success by charting indivual progress instead of perpetuating an unrealistic ideal of perfectionism and superiority.

    The feeling of success and specialness is important to all individuals in developing a feeling of self worth. It is self worth that is important.

    I think there are many in our society who suffer from poor self esteem.

    It is hard not to blame others when a school system has continuously measured your ugliness by comparing you to the "beautiful" people.

    For those who do feel self worth, it should not be done at other's expense.

    Self worth is exactly what it suggests, the feeling of worth as it relates to ones SELF not others.

    It is food for thought. Thank you for bringing this topic to light!

  2. love the quote! I too have mixed feeling about the whole comparison thing, I wrote a bit about comparison syndrome as I like to call it on my blog. Thanks for following, I am happily following you in return! Have a great day!

  3. By the way, my daughter has a syndrome which is Prader- willi 'like' {just thought I'd add that} so I can understand your quest with your son!