Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Kids Are All Right

Now is the time when all homeschoolers turn to thoughts of curriculum. My more organizationally minded friends have all their ducks in a row and are just waiting for the school supply sales. I know people who have thought ahead to college application requirements and have already structured their four high school years for maximum effectiveness.

Me? I haven't even taken my summer vacation yet. 

Look, I know how important an early training is. I know that planning is three-quarters of the battle, and that a good textbook does a lot of the work for you, and instruction in penmanship builds character, etc. I've been around the homeschooling world for 25 years, and I've heard all the discussions. And I just can't get exercised about it. My children's education is important to me, I promise, and yet right now I feel like the philosopher Alfred E. Newman: "What, me worry?"

Some of this has to do with the way we've spent our summer. Four kids and I have been in play rehearsals since June, with later and later evenings culminating in our performances this weekend. Nights have gotten later and later, and Darwin has had to change his schedule multiple times to accommodate us (this is what happens when a houseful of babysitters takes up a time-consuming hobby). We've had a fantastic amount of fun, and the rockiness of our final tech rehearsals this week offers a hopeful testimony to the proportional fabulousness of our opening night on Thursday. And, coincidentally, we've spent a great deal of down time with other kids and teens.

I don't have to take this opportunity to lay to rest the cherished canard about homeschoolers not socializing. We all know that's a crock, especially if you're a homeschooling parent trying to balance your children's rounds of co-ops and playgroups and religion classes with actually getting a little work done at home. So, we've been socializing this summer with a lot of new friends from various school and home backgrounds. Except that we haven't been socializing all that much, except for this week or two as rehearsals have gotten particularly intense and everyone's had to get off their phones.

Yes, I'm going to talk about phones. The chorus is not in every scene, so we've done a lot of sitting around in rehearsals. There are several places you can go with this. If you want to learn more about the craft of acting and directing, or if you're interested in seeing the progress of the play, or if you just want to laugh at the humor of the show, you watch the rehearsal. There's lot of educational potential there, and entertainment as well. Or, if you don't care as much about what goes on outside of your appearances, you can do something quiet without disrupting the action. You can read a book. You can close your eyes. 

Or you can sit for an hour at a time, taking selfies and sending them with the person sitting next to you, who is also taking selfies.

Now look, I know talk of kids and phones is controversial. So let me tell you where I'm coming from, and say: my kids don't have a phone, and I don't see a reason why they need to. Apparently this is a provocative opinion, although most of us were raised without having a phone, and have survived into adulthood. I told my kids the other day that when I was in college, hardly anyone had a cell phone, and then it was literally only used for emergencies because a) it was too expensive to fool around with wasting your minutes on idle chat, and b) they were dull phones in those days, and texting was a big pain. Darwin and I graduated from college in 2000, a year and change before 9/11, which might have had something to do with initiating the constant contact culture we have now, but that's speculation for another time.

So, many people get their kids phones for a variety of reasons, and with good intentions. But surely this is less controversial: if your kids have phones, they don't need entertainment or photo-sharing apps. Not everyone agrees; exhibit A is Pokemon Go. Everyone has some reason why their particular entertainment app is the exception that proves the rule. Well, it's a free country, and I've been wrong before.

But surely, surely we can all agree on this. When you are in a situation when your attention is required, when, even if you are not actively participating, you may be called up, or need to have stored up the information presented for later application; when you are in a situation where etiquette demands your quiet, attentive presence -- church, school, meetings, play rehearsals, band practice, dance class, you name it -- your phone should be out of your hands, put away, silenced. This is not controversial. This is not even being out of contact with the world. This is simply being in the moment you are required to be in, away from a constant stream of entertainment and virtual interaction. It is a matter of courtesy towards the person presenting to you or to others, and to the others trying to focus on that presentation. It is a matter of mental discipline, to train your mind to absorb information that may not be instantly amusing or applicable to you, because it is applicable to the whole project in which you play a small role. It is a good training in silence, not just in the physical silence required when someone else is speaking, but in the mental silence necessary for learning new material and growing as a person. When this mental silence is not cultivated, people and projects suffer, and the culture suffers. 

As I have watched my children this summer as we work on our show, I've seen that they can sit quietly and watch even when they are not called to action. I've seen that they can take direction and internalize it. I've seen them practice mental agility as they receive new and conflicting direction, and implement it without complaint or blankness. I've seen them pitch in and help before and after rehearsal, when their presence isn't compelled, without needing to be asked or given step-by-step commands. I've seen them being friendly without gossiping or being distracted from the task at hand. I have received what Jane Eyre calls "the meed teachers most covet; praise of their pupils' progress."


This year, we are making some educational changes. We're going to go with some packaged curriculum (unselected as of yet) for the older girls, because as much as I want to do things my own way, I am nurturing some young persons who crave a structure and a check-list culture that I don't naturally seem to provide. Our oldest is taking one 50-minute class at the high school this year -- freshman chorus, a class that would seem to be a fit for an afternoon slot but will instead require a family lifestyle shift to meet the starting time of 7:25 am. 

In past years, I might have felt roiled by these changes. Maybe I still will. But right now, they don't bother me because they don't actually touch what is important about our family and our educational culture. We can make changes and pivot without those changes affecting the core of who we are and how we learn in this house. With God's grace, the kids are, and will continue to be, all right.


Jamie said...

I agree 100% with your assertion that meetings should be phone-free. But we are in a dwindling minority on that one. Phone etiquette is shifting rapidly to accommodate the preferences of people who get twitchy in a hurry without their phones in view, and the preferences of their out-of-sight contacts who expect them to have their phones in view.

It all makes me feel positively elderly. A defiant kind of elderly, but elderly nonetheless.

Brandon said...

My cell phone is still primarily for emergencies. (And a flip phone model from pre-smartphone eons!)

I think a lot of times we forget that the primary way in which kids (and everyone else) actually learn is just by getting and doing things, and then thinking about it. Other things can help; but our most fundamental education starts with participating in things.

mrsdarwin said...

Jamie, I also, like you, believe that dance recitals and shows should be glowing-screen-free, but people seem to think that they're entitled to video everything, regardless of the fact that video quality is generally subpar and never captures the real thing (which they're missing by videoing, argh).

mrsdarwin said...

Brandon, your low-tech phone is probably a major factor to the amount of quality time you can spend reading and thinking about what you've read, and don't let anyone tell you differently.

Foxfier said...

Pokemon Go: where a significant part of the point is to walk around the city at night.
Yeah, not a kids' game. More like a family game, although it's open to singles.

Foxfier said...

When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to bring a book in any case where you were supposed to be paying attention-- like recitals*.

My phone mostly gets used as a camera or an ebook reader; if it's a situation where I wouldn't be allowed to have a book out as a kid, I don't allow myself the phone out.

But I do have to have it-- my parents are in a dangerous job, and I'm who they contact first when stuff hits the fan. So I have to check every dang beep or burble to see what it is.

* (The amount of time that was inevitably wasted there, and my resulting lack of interest, may NOT be related. I can take inactivity; I can't take being required to put more attention into a thing than the people I'm paying attention to are willing to offer.)

Son Mom said...

My teens both have cell phones, but we talk a lot about the fact that many of their contemporaries are almost addicted to their phones, and why that's a problem. I've also noticed that many older kids' activities basically assume everyone has a phone - often we're given no firm ending time, with the assumption that the kids will text us when they're finishing up.

I've been really pleased with my daughter's Catholic high school, that very strictly enforces a "no phones in the classroom" - the principal told me that they're very aware of how much social pressure and bullying can happen with the phones, and they want the girls at least to have their school hours removed from that. I know that one of my daughter's classmates had a boyfriend who used to text her repeatedly during the school day and complain that she didn't text him back!

I've definitely seen phones interfere with kids' ability to handle waiting at situations like rehearsals. One thing that's good about taking kids to church from the time they're little is that they learn to deal with sitting in boredom for an hour :) I see more and more kids using phones/tablets in grocery carts, which I definitely understand the temptation, but feel like you're doing yourself a disservice in the end by giving little ones the expectation that electronic entertainment will be available at all times. However, I do love to have a tablet and a pair of headphones when I have to drag a little one along while I have a doctor's appointment or meet with an accountant or really need them to be able to stay quiet and still. So I find the phones to be a great tool, but very easy to fall into the temptation to use them at all times.