More than Just Students of Life

By Jason Menard

By overwhelming our children with homework are we not preventing them from doing the very thing we’re sending them to school to do? Learn.

My son, one month into his sixth-grade year, is slowly going pasty white from lack of exposure to the sun. At this rate, we’ll have to change his name to Quasimodo due to the nice hump that’s forming from being hunched over a desk each and every night.

Like many students, my son is faced with a mountain of homework each and every night. And because it takes so long for him to climb his way to the top, he’s not afforded the opportunity to stop from time to time and simply enjoy the view.

I’m all for giving homework to kids to improve their study habits, work discipline, and to show that with effort comes reward. However, we appear to be placing unfair expectations on our children — accepting something as the norm for them, which the majority of us wouldn’t appreciate in our adult lives.

As we progress through our careers, we strive to find that sweet spot in work/life balance. We look for that elusive zone wherein we don’t just live to work, but we work to live. Although some of us may take our jobs home with us, we’re all working for a day when we can strike that delicate balance between what we have to do to make a living, and what we want to do to live life to its fullest.

So why should we expect any less from our children? More importantly, why are we placing such a premium on the knowledge gleaned from sticking a nose in a book if it comes at the cost of true learning?

Life isn’t just about what you learn in a text book, or what you summarize from a chapter. It’s the sum of all your experiences: intellectual being a component, but no more or less integral than the emotional, social, and physical. In an attempt to ensure success and optimal use of time, we’re sacrificing the best part of our kids’ childhood – the ability just to have fun and be a kid. Throughout my life, I’ve learned as much, if not more, through my interaction with others and through the exploration of my own interests than I have in any lesson-planned activity or curriculum.

My true passions are not the ones that have been lectured to me, but rather the ones that I’ve searched out and discovered on my own. The most rewarding work I’ve done in my life hasn’t been assigned – it’s been assumed as a result of my own interest. But without the time to go out and explore the world and their own interests, our children are in danger of becoming one-dimensional.

Essentially, the purpose of any education isn’t just to memorize trivia or to get good grades. The true value of a good education comes from the fact that we learn how to learn. We learn how to explore the world around us with an open, yet critical eye. We learn how to be open to new experiences and value them based upon their own criteria – not a strict adherence to existing beliefs. We learn to take each new day as an opportunity to better ourselves by allowing the world around us to unfold and reveal itself to us, open for our interpretations.

Yet, in order to experience life at its fullest, we need to have more than just an intellectual knowledge of its concepts. We need to be able to feel and understand. The old adage states that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. But it’s not just the memorization of facts that will prevent us from repeating past transgressions – we need to understand the context behind actions and be able to empathize with people and situations.

If we don’t allow our kids to explore those aspects of their lives, then how can we expect them to truly succeed?

This isn’t to say that all homework is bad. Far from it. Homework teaches kids valuable lessons about the future: the need for preparation, the need for constant self-improvement, and the understanding that there is a world of information out there waiting to be explored. Yet, those lessons shouldn’t be taught at the expense of living their lives. It’s one thing to know how and when a painting was created, but if we don’t understand the emotions and feelings behind its creation, then most of the value is lost.

Let’s apply the concept of striking a work/life balance to our kids. We need to understand that going to school is a job – and with it comes the reward of having some down-time to explore their own personal interests. We expect that right as adults, so why are our expectations different for our children?

We have to stop thinking of down-time as a negative concept. We have to look at play not as a waste of time, but rather an integral part of the learning and aging process. Whether it’s in a group or on their own, our children’s social, physical, and emotional development can only benefit from the opportunities available only during free time.

We need to find that balance between when kids have to be students of life and when they’re actually allowed to be participants in life, because that’s the most valuable lesson they’ll ever learn.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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