This is my very first published article!
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Living from the Inside, Out
|“When we adults think of children, there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life; childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live; a child is living. How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize the child as a partner with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing him as an apprentice. How much we would teach each other… adults with the experience and children with the freshness. How full both our lives could be. A little child may not lead us, but at least we ought to discuss the trip with him, for after all, life is his journey too.”
-Professor T. Ripaldi
My vision as a teacher has changed quite a lot since I started in BC public schools a decade ago. Originally, my education philosophy centered around a concern for children’s self-esteem and a questioning of the efficacy of our current education system in that regard. I worked for some years to try to make a difference from inside the current system before I decided to leave and work with home learning families. My philosophy has morphed throughout the years into a different focus: collaborating with kids (with the support of their families) in order to help them design their learning around goals that are meaningful and important to them. It has been my privilege over the past 5.5 years to work with children and families who are home learning as a Learning Consultant (LC). As an LC, I work alongside children to create their learning goals for the year, I help them find resources and mentors so that they can accomplish their goals, I validate their way of learning and I help them to “see” their learning and assess it in a new way. We are each born with unique gifts. I believe our work in this lifetime is to use those gifts in creative ways to add to the beauty of the world and to find workable and sustainable solutions to the world’s challenges.
|“My learning consultant gives me feedback on [my learning] and different ideas/perspectives with her different interests. She understands my humor and doesn’t just groan at it.”
-Justin Age 10
In my observation, North American mainstream culture tends to dull the innate desire to learn that we are each born with. As a public school teacher, I became disillusioned watching that bright spark, so naturally present in most five year olds, slowly wane as time stretched on. Years of being told what to do, when to do it, and even how to do it take its toll on the creativity necessary for responsive and responsible living in human beings.
Watching children learn and grow is intensely fascinating to me. No one directly teaches them to speak, to walk, or to crawl. These three things, according to neuroscience, are some of the most neurologically complex skills we humans ever learn in our lifetimes and kids learn these with virtually no instruction! Children’s first few years are a big adventure of discovery and learning about what they can do in and with their incredible body-mind. The state of wonder that is available to them because they live in the present moment is beautiful to witness as an observer. It reminds me what is “off” about the way we adults do life- hurrying along while living in the past or the future but rarely in the moment as it is unfolding in all its magic.
|“You don’t depend on life. Life depends on you.”
-Emma Age 7
Kids know how to play with life. When a sense of play and experimentation is encouraged by the adults around them, most kids seem to know how to use their creativity to make their goals a reality and don’t tend to give up on their dreams as easily as many adults do. They haven’t yet learned to say NO to life and to rule out possibilities. My personal philosophy is now centered around a belief that we are each actually naturally equipped to learn everything we desire to. After all, we wouldn’t have survived as a species without this natural ability to learn and adapt. Although some of us may experience challenges in some areas, there is often a way to work through a steep learning curve and this sometimes requires specific support and especially creativity. I am reminded of a story of a woman who lost her legs from the knees down. She trained herself to run on prosthetics that were especially designed for her. She is now one of the fastest runners in her event. Or the 86 year old man who was inspired by his daughter, a ballerina, to take up ballet and performed in his first ballet two years later.
Part of my dream for the planet is that Earth’s children continue to evolve to that place where there is no distinction between what their hearts dream and what they are able to create in everyday life. Funny enough, when I am guiding families through this process of living from a self-empowered place, it is the parents I spend the most time working with. Most parents and adults I meet have been through the regular school system and, although they know school isn’t working for their child, are afraid to move towards the unknown, even though there’s a possibility of greater happiness for their children and themselves. In guiding families to bridge the gap between what they say they believe and what they actually do in their lives, I empathize with the struggle to transform- especially knowing that whether they choose a “known” path or an unknown one, there are no guarantees in life.
My heart wells up at the beauty that comes forth in unlikely circumstances and places. Mostly, I am in awe of the courage parents have in order to venture into unfamiliar territory with their children. I am struck by the immense love the vast majority of parents have for their children and the power of that force to exact change on deep levels of being. Every day, I see parents changing unhealthy ancestral patterns handed down to them; they are actively seeking out new ways to relate to their children and to guide them through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. As one of my young learners (Robin, age 12) pointed out a while back, children are not treated by most adults with much respect: ” I wish people would tell kids more stuff and listen to them more. I feel like I’m not really a person because I’m not always treated like one so I’ve decided to be really smart and know lots of stuff so that adults who would normally treat me differently will change their view of kids.”
And so, as Robin put so beautifully, my journey with children this past decade has been one of moving away from a hierarchical way of interacting with them which presumes that I know best what they need towards a model of walking alongside kids on their journey. I find out what they are interested in. I encourage them to follow their passions and help them to source out ways to learn more about them so they can accomplish their own goals instead of predetermined ones that come from forces outside them.
|“Teaching without wanting to learn doesn’t work, doesn’t stick. But wanting to learn and finding a teacher is like magic. All the knowledge goes into your brain and makes it all fizzy and nice.”
-Xavier Age 8
I believe that this conditioned pattern of forcing others to conform is coming to an end in our world. I have seen many miraculous things in my years working with families. I’ve come to believe that it is not a culture of domination in raising children that will create a peaceful world. It is when we learn to see children as complete beings unto themselves who are capable (at each stage of their development) of choosing the direction of their learning and growth that will make the most impact on future generations. When I ask parents what they dream for their kids, they want them to be happy. I don’t know anything that brings more fulfillment in life than to be able to live in a way that makes one’s heart sing. That looks different for each of us. It is true that adults have more life experience than kids do and we often can anticipate things due to our experience that they are not yet able to. Allowing our children to go on that journey of discovery with our full support and sensitive guidance is the best way I know of to ensure a future where the Earth and all her children are well cared for. Children are much less likely to grow up to hurt themselves, others, and the planet when they know they have choices and that they are responsible for their own actions and indeed, the direction of their lives.
Jennifer Engracio BEd.
Jennifer Engracio is a BC-Certified teacher who has worked in public and alternative education for a decade. She now works with children and families through SelfDesign Learning Community (www.selfdesign.org). She is a passionate learner herself with a wide range of interests she is pursuing in her life daily.