Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Well-rounded and hating it

When it was time for our oldest child to start high school, I played devil's advocate. I told her every wonderful thing about high school that I could think of. We discussed it a lot. She thought about it. And in the end she decided, to my great joy and immediate terror, that she wanted to continue homeschooling.

Her reason for that decision dovetails nicely with topic of my post. She knew that if she went to high school she would have lots of homework for classes that she wasn't even interested in and that this would cut into her time for the two things she really was interested in: playing the piano and reading.

She didn't want to be well-rounded. None of my children are particularly well-rounded. And I'm okay with that.

A friend recently linked to a blog post titled The argument against raising well-rounded kids. That piece is responsible for this post. Although that blogger is more career-focused and sees encouraging kids to focus on their strengths largely as a tool to build a more successful career, while I see it more as a means to live a satisfying and fulfilled life, I still found much in her piece that struck a chord.

I grew up well-rounded. I went to school and did well in all subjects. I played sports, and was mediocre or worse in all of them that I tried. I took piano for years, having neither the talent or passion to be good. I also took lessons in other instruments, voice, dance and gymnastics--for which my body could not have been less suited--even roller skating. Bless my mother's sweet heart, she was trying to find something that I was good at, something that would make my slightly chubby, bookish self happy. And I was, too.

Even though I already knew what made me happy. Reading. Writing . Playing with my friends. Reading some more. And more. And more. Writing letters to my friends and pen pals. And reading some more.

But what made me happy wasn't really an acceptable pursuit. Being smart, loving words, and loving to play with words wasn't enough. It wasn't a talent. So we searched. And when I hit high school I did what I was told to be the well rounded college prep student. I took math, even doubling up my sophomore year on Algebra 2 and Geometry to leave room for Calculus my senior year. I took Biology, Chemistry, Advanced Chemistry, and Physics. Because I was jumping through the college prep hoops, I couldn't fit in world history, which I would have loved, although I did get to take a one-semester philosophy class that is still one of my most memorable classes ever. Fortunately for me, English was required, and we had an excellent English department. I got to read real literature and quite a bit of it. I got up very early my freshman year to go to swim practice, because well-rounded people did sports. After three years of high school, I still had people pressuring me to go into engineering because that's what smart people should do. Why would I want to be a writer?

My senior year I finally rebelled. I had had good grades and was near the top of my class. I had the highest PSAT scores in the history of my school; getting into college and even getting money wasn't going to be a problem. I took English and government. I was editor of the yearbook. I dropped physics after one semester and I decided not to take calculus. I was a class officer. I read books, wrote, and spent a lot of time hanging out with my friends and my then-boyfriend, now-husband.

In college, I crashed and burned rather spectacularly. Nothing I wanted to do was practical. What was the point? I was lonely. I was removed from any support for my faith. I changed majors so many times that even I have lost count. I changed schools several times.

But what if from the age of 14 on I had been able to focus on what I was good at and what I was interested in? Would I be this person who still, at almost 50, doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up? Would I be this person who can do lots of things, but as I seem to have been reminded frequently in recent weeks, none very well? And once a person, especially someone as ADD as I am gets in the habit of dabbling, can they get out?

My kids aren't well-rounded. I am glad. Bethany immersed herself in her books and music. She went to college to major in history and minor in music. She dropped the music minor after a while because it was too time-intensive, and she really doesn't enjoy performing, but she still gets a great deal of joy from her piano. She got perfect grades, aside from one B+, and could have gone on to grad school almost anywhere, but knew herself well enough to know that that wasn't really what she wanted. Now she's busy being a fabulous, happy, wife and mother.

Patrick is a reader and wordsmith. He is majoring in history and German with stellar grades. (One B+ there, too.) His depth and breadth of historical knowledge astounds me. His writing reflects the fact that growing up he immersed himself in good books. Whatever he decides to do he will do well, because he knows his own mind and is comfortable with who he is.

Jonathan is a singer. His teen years had the minimum of academic work necessary for college admission, but he sang with multiple choirs, took voice, and was in several productions with various groups, including two at the same time. He never could have done this if he were in school. He is not well-rounded. He is focused.

Andrew is the most like me in personality. Gregarious and out-going, he needs his social time, but he has also found his strength. He is skilled at, and enjoys, languages. He has learned Koine Greek well enough to help teach it. He has learned some Latin and German and intends to learn more. He is also very industrious and has had his first job for over a year and has now added a second. Both of his jobs are in the service industry, allowing him to use and hone his people skills and to socialize while at work.

Of course all kids need to be taught to read and write at a functional level. All kids need survival math. (If we taught math as a life skill it would go better, but that's another post.) But we do young people--and our society--a disservice by emphasizing well-roundedness, standards, college preparation, etc. We would all be much better off if from, about the time they hit double digits, we let our kids follow their passions and quit trying to shove them all into a few neatly labelled boxes.


Elephantschild said...

Funny how every time I'm at my lowest as to being confident about how we're educating SK, along comes something that reinforces what we're doing as The Right Thing For Our Family and My Kid.

Thank you, my friend.

Anonymous said...

So eloquently stated! For several decades now I've been bragging about raising the best bench-sitters in the history of Buckeye sports. How I wished I'd listened to my mom when she asked me about the wisdom of taking four kids in 10 directions so that they could participate in activities that only marginally held their interest.

From following your blog I sense that you created the most important gift that any child needs, that is a home that is so full of love, forgiveness, and frivolity, that they just can't help but turn their wings toward home. The task of making sure that our nests are strong enough to take in all those who are weary (or just need a laugh) is sure to bring us contentment that is unparalleled. Drawing away from the soccer lessons, the dance recitals, etc, etc, is a paradigm shift that I pray my own children will embrace.

Anonymous said...

:D :D :D

Jane S.

Annalise said...

Thank you for writing this. I had tears running down my face reading it. It is a subject that hits close to home.

I think homeschooled teens forget how blessed they are and I believe that homeschooling parents often forget the beauty and pursuit of a passion and the importance of pursuing it while you are young and have the ability, energy, and time.

I have also noticed the increasing pressure on young women (and men) to pursue an academic life which will lead to a "successful" career and the looking down upon of a life of a homemaker, wife, and mother. I know this is a common topic talked among Lutheran moms, especially those over the age of 35. But the reality is that this is not considered an acceptable thing among the girl's social or academic peers.

I think I begin to ramble, so I shall stop.

Susan said...

All right, missy. I have one major complaint about this blogpost.

You do have a passion. And you have indeed excelled at it. You make people happy. You entertain. You console. You welcome ... oh my goodness, HOW you welcome folks!

No, I suppose you can't make a career of it "when you grow up" (unless you wanted to be that cruise director that you suggested Rachel might grow up to be). And I suppose "being friendly" does not rate high on the charts of high-school counselors.

But it rates high with me. And with your husband and children and extended family. And with your next-door neighbors. And with people at church. And at sem. And who come to the August retreat. And who have benefited from your IN homeschool email list.

Yes, you can keep reading and writing. (Especially writing, because I love reading your writing.) But you are Jane, and I can't even begin to count how many people know and LOVE Janie's "Jane-ness." You might not see it, and you might not have sense enough to value it [tsk tsk tsk]. But I'm telling you that your passion is a blessing to me and many others.

Playing with your friends. You say it like it's no big deal. But it's a big deal. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that it IS your passion (and so very integral to who you are) that you don't even recognize how important it is to some of us.

Thus ends my so-called complaint about your post.

I love you.

I miss you.

Jane said...

Oh, Susan. Thank you.
You don't have any idea how much that means to me.
And I miss you, too!

mom said...

I had no idea how to come up with words until I read Susan's comment.

Yes, what Susan said, exactly!

I wish I had been able to do for you what you've done for your family; I'm sure you know I have plenty of regrets. But, then, you wouldn't be who you are today. And I can't imagine that world.

I love you.

Jane said...

Mom, you were practically a superhero. I couldn't have done what you did. So it's a good thing you were you. :)