Now Is Our Opportunity for Real Child-Centered Education

Your kid's at-home learning experience doesn't have to look identical to his classroom.

Fabio Principe/ Shutterstock
Fabio Principe/ Shutterstock

Now that our kids are out of school for what may turn out to be many months, many educators and pundits are offering parents suggestions for how to replace school at home and online. But here is a suggestion I have not heard as yet. 

Instead of doing our best to replicate, in some fashion, the education, content and structure that exists in our schools — and that most kids really don’t like — why don’t we take the opportunity to go “zero based” and begin a different kind of education that kids want (and that some educators talk about) but few ever do.

When most adults mouth the words “student-centered-” or “child-centered-“ education, they don’t really mean it. A true child-centered education would go something like this: We ask each kid “What are your dreams – what do you want to become (short and long term)?  And then we say to them “Great! My job is to help you get there — let’s go.” Instead, what most adults are really saying (to themselves) when they talk to kids about this is “I know what you really need—this curriculum, these skills, this kind of discipline. I’m going to try to find a way to give it to you that feels a bit more comfortable to you — but that’s still what we’re going to do.”

What if, in the next few months, we gave our kids a break from all that. What if we said to our kids instead: “You can do anything you want to — as long as it advances a goal that is important to you, and hopefully to the world as well.”

My own 15-year-old, for example, who really dislikes school (even though he goes to the top public high school in California) will be using the time to become certified as an air traffic controller on his computer simulator. He has already taught himself (after school, with the help of You Tube and online colleagues) to pilot every commercial jet, and to control planes at any big commercial airport on the ground and from the tower. Now he wants to move to “approach and departure” controlling which is a quantum leap harder. So he has signed up for (free) training sessions, by real experienced controllers, and will do as much of this training as he possibly can while he is off from school – which has put him into heaven! He’s also going to use the opportunity to improve his skills as a photographer – another goal of his.

I have never met a kid without dreams and goals (although sometimes we have to dig to find them.)  Yet we so rarely ask our kids about this without limiting them to “what school subject (or sport) do you like?

What if over the next few months we gave our kids a “working vacation” from their normal school? What if we said to them “Pick something to accomplish that you’d really like to (even if it’s hard)—something that someday you’ll be able to say to your kids ‘This is what I did during the coronavirus pandemic.’”

Then, when they tell us, all we say back is “Great– surprise me! …and let me know what I can do to help.”

Wouldn’t that be different?

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