We’re Teaching How to Think, Not What to Think

The school year has started and like many kids in our COVID-times, our daughter is enrolled in virtual school here at home. What she hadn’t anticipated was that we were going to take an active role in teaching her about things outside of her daily school curriculum. Some of these things include learning about history—with a focus currently on Florida’s history. We plan to read about and visit many landmarks and historical sites within a day’s drive. She has participated in a webinar on finances now that she has her own bank account. She will learn how to budget her money and keep track of her spending and saving. We have also added the Woman’s Movement given it’s the 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment. It’s important that she understand how far her gender has come. I want her to have an appreciation for the women who came before her and how they laid the foundation for future generations. They did this by pursuing not only what they wanted from life, but battled against those who saw to oppress them. 

We are currently reading And Yet They Persisted: How American Women Won The Right To Vote by Johanna Neuman.  We take about an hour of time together each night, taking turns reading and discussing things along the way. The writing is a bit advanced for a sixteen-year-old, so we utilize the dictionary frequently to ensure a clear definition of terms. I’ve come to realize that although I know the meaning of these words, sometimes I’m unable to clearly define them for her in a way she will understand. This is also where Michael comes in as he easily provides concise definitions and examples—he’s usually sitting off to the side listening as we read. Another thing we do is frequently pause to ensure our daughter understands the material. This takes up a lot of time, but it’s important for her to comprehend what she’s reading. Needless to say, we are all learning. 

Part of our learning experience is watching lectures—which we did today. The speaker was Johanna Neuman, who authored the book we’re reading. This creates an opportunity for discussion and better understanding of the points the writer is trying to make. Our daughter does seem to have an appreciation of the privileges and rights she enjoys because of the woman who came before her—more so now. Unlike her great-great-grandmother, she gets to have an education that includes more than learning to sew. She can be a pilot, a scientist, or even a president—of our country or of her own company.  One thing my daughter said today was her inability to comprehend how anyone can be sexist in this day and age—a frame of mind that would consider excluding women from what they want to do. I feel exactly the same and delighted she doesn’t feel like her possibilities are remotely limited.

She recognizes women are still working today toward total equality. She does, however, need to take a moment to process that when I started working in the business world back in the early 90s, I couldn’t wear pants to work. Women were only allowed to wear dresses or skirts—and required to wear pantyhose. My legs itch just thinking about it now. What’s also a challenge for her to understand—from both our reading and what she witnesses—is that there are some women who are good with the limitations a patriarchal society. They accept those rules and willingly play by them. The key point is for our daughter to appreciate that everyone should be free to live how they choose—even if she doesn’t agree.

In a world as diverse as ours, she has to accept that everyone will have a different perception of how life should be lived. Even those who grow up with the same parents have children with opposing views, so how can one expect the various cultures of our society to conform to one viewpoint? What we offer in our home is the right to discuss absolutely anything and learn from both sides of an argument. We want her to understand that ignorance of an opposing view is a sure way to lose a debate. The advantage to any discussion is knowing about all sides, not just what you believe. One must appreciate the complexities that create an individual’s point of view—whether that be upbringing, education, or experience. She must also be receptive to learning from others and find value in a difference of opinion.

In the end, she will have to decide for herself how she wants to live her life. She will discover on her own what causes she wants to fight for. Our job as parents is to ensure she is armed with a diverse education that will enable her with intelligent thought. This education includes the reality of the world she lives in and its history. 

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” 

― Margaret Mead

Asking A Teen If They Want Advice Is Just A Formality

It’s always amazing to me that children brought up in the same household can be so very different. They may have the same parents, same upbringing, and same opportunities—however, the outcome is anyone’s guess. We see the similarities in our kids—certain characteristics—but quite commonly, they each march to a different drummer. The question is how do you help each of them find their path in life?

I do not accept the philosophy of “You can be anything you want to be” that we all heard growing up. It’s really just something encouraging to tell kids. As they get older, however, we realize there are things they just can’t do. The key is that there is unlimited potential to try anything they want—but, they have to put in the work.

My children, two of which are technically adults, have vastly different capabilities. My middle child is the most social and can definitely read any room he enters. He is quick to assess a situation and knows where a conversation needs to go. He took a drastic step in joining the army, becoming an infantryman. This was surprising as he has a lackadaisical approach toward life. Joining the military was in opposition to his personality—however, he thrives on challenges. I was pleasantly surprised by his determination and so very proud of him. 

The oldest leaves me flummoxed. Although he is regimented and likes routine, the military would not necessarily be a good fit. He wouldn’t thrive in a demanding situation and is quick to shut down if challenged. Unlike his brother, he can’t easily read people and isn’t a social creature. Drawing inference from most situations is not in his wheelhouse. He doesn’t want to go to college, but has considered technical school. He has always liked the mechanics of things, but problem solving would be a challenge for him. Ultimately, he has to decide, but he hasn’t a clue of which direction to take—and I don’t know how to guide him.

The youngest is my most creative and has fabulous artistic talents. She has an interest in digital art and demonstrates she can succeed with what she creates on her iPad—as well as, traditional drawing on paper. She is also filled with an abundance of empathy for people and animals—fluctuating the idea of becoming a doctor, veterinarian, or teacher. She is still young enough to figure things out and surprisingly talking of being an airline pilot. I’m not sure where that came from, but I encourage her to see if it’s a fit.

All three seem to be resistant to parental advice unless they are the ones to ask—even then it’s iffy. The strength to resist choking them as they dismiss my advice is an acquired skill I’ve mastered over the years. I know they need to make their own decisions, doing what they feel is best. How else can they appreciate the success or failure? The problem is I don’t want them to fail more than they have to in order to learn. Naturally, I tell them I listened to my parents and followed all their advice. The laughter breaks the tension, but I do say I wished I had listened more.

The only thing for me to do is be available when they want to talk and use that opportunity to slip in any advice bottled up in my parental arsenal. I will still encourage my oldest to find his path in life—even if we don’t currently know what it is. In the end, all I can really do is introduce them to the world and let them make their own decisions.