Academics or habit training? Which will ensure long-term success for our children?
Close your eyes.
(Well, okay, don't. Keep reading instead.)
But imagine in your mind's eye the type of person you want your child to be when they are an adult.
Can you picture your relationship with them? How they will handle problems and challenges?
How will they treat others? How will they spend their day (without you there 'policing')? What will they eat? How much will they sleep? Who will they spend their time with? Doing what?
What kind of parent or spouse they will be? What kind of neighbor and friend will they be? How will the positively influence their community and the world around them?
My husband did this with a group of homeschool moms. He was presenting at a convention.
After they had the picture in their head, he made a list on the white board of all the things these moms wanted their children to be when they reached adulthood:
Caring and kind
To have grit
To be able to do hard things
Clean and organized
Efficient manager of time and energy
Mentally healthy and strong
Physically active and healthy
Helpful and serving
Ability to focus and create
Critical thinking skills
Fulfilled and living on purpose
After the board was full, my husband stopped the group and said,
"Do you notice that no one wrote, 'Be good at math' or 'Get a good score on the SAT' or even 'graduate from college'?
Now inherently, many of us do want those things for our children because we believe it will help them do or become the things on the list above.
We want them to graduate from college so that they can get a good job and provide for their family so they don't have to stress about money and THEN they can be happy.
But that is a lie. It's backwards.
Learning to be happy (or respectful or disciplined or _________) is a skill and habit all it's own INDEPENDENT OF CIRCUMSTANCES or grades or degrees.
If our children (or ourselves) develop the habit of being happy then they don't have to wait for the 'perfect' circumstances in order to experience happiness (or patience or creativity).
They don't have to wait for the new car or the job promotion or the day the kids don't fight and squabble.
They (we) can choose happiness now. Today.
And that is true with everything else on that list. TODAY we can practice at being loving or persistent. We can practice critical thinking. We can practice doing hard things.
It is through daily practice that we develop habits. And habits determine our destiny.
But many of us don't know how to do that -- how to keep practicing until we develop the habit of being something we're (currently) not.
Or we give up quickly. Or we tell ourselves, 'This is just the way I am. I can't change.'
Which is a direct result of an academic-only focused education. An education that prizes academic success (intelligence) above all else.
We learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. We learn how to pass tests and get good grades. But we don't learn grit and determination or perseverance or happiness.
We don't learn that most of what we do and who we are is a direct result of our daily habits. We don't learn that we have the power to change them anytime we'd like.
And so we haven't learned how to do or become the things we want to do or become.
We haven't learned how to live a life filled with meaning and purpose. We haven't learned how to be the hero of our own life story.
Research is showing that EVERYTHING on that list can be broken down to it's smallest part and developed into a habit that can be taught and trained in order for our children (or ourselves) to do and become them.
Happiness or hard work or innovation won't develop automatically 'just because'.
They are developed only when they are intentionally taught. They're achieved when we train our children to develop them as habits.
Our children will learn to be happy or kind or to have grit when we teach and train them to be that way.
So if these are the things we really want for our children to do and become, why do we spend so much time focusing on academics?!
Archilochus, a Greek poet, once said:
We don't rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.
We might hope and expect that our children will be successful and happy (now or when they grow up). But they won't be unless we train them to be successful and happy (now and when they grow up).
This is the giant gap that exists in education today.
We want one thing (happiness and success and the list above) but teach and train another (academics and 'intelligence').
And while I'm not saying we should throw out academics completely, I AM saying we need to include Habit Training as a major part of the education plan we have for our children.
Life is in a constant state of flux. So is today's world. It's changing faster than we can comprehend.
We can't predict nor guarantee what the future holds for our children. We don't know what information or skills they will need to succeed in careers or life in general.
But there is one constant that DOES NOT change. There is one thing we can always count on and (learn to) control. It is the basis of human behavior, a lasting principle you can rely on year after year.
It's so foundational you can build your personality around it, your family, your business... your life.
Albert Grey put it this way:
Men and women form habits and habits form futures. You are the kind of person you are because you have formed the habit of being that kind of person. And the only way to change is through habit.
HABITS are the one constant. They don't change unless we change them. We can always count on falling back into our habits (our 'training').
Education of the next generation (and of ourselves as parents and teachers) will be best served by a deliberate plan for training them in the habits of a successful life.