This post was going to be about something else, but I got carried away with storytelling and we have ended up here. Passions.
Like most parents, we want our children to follow a path that allows them to explore their passions. Radical unschooler or not, I really believe that most parents want their children to find something that makes them truly happy and for them to be able to make that a big part of their life.
As unschoolers, this isn’t something we are putting on hold. Right now is the time for us to dedicate ourselves to things that energise us and drive us to know more. You could argue that a child could do this in school and perhaps some can. We are trying to take chance out of it.
We strive to avoid subtle messages about worth. There are no core subjects and electives. There are no interests relegated to the after school or sometimes slot. There are no strings attached. Science is not assigned more value than art and art is not seen more favourably than spending your time outside with a bo-staff. We believe that the best way for our children to find something they are passionate about is to leave out our judgment. We support their interests no matter how obscure and give them space and time to explore them.
I have been reflecting on how it is that this became so important to me and why I want this for my children. I guess it is equal parts projecting and aspiration. At school, I was a classic overachiever. I was so eager to please and do well and be successful. There was no stopping me. So much of my drive was caught up in how I wanted other people to see me. What did other people think of as successful? I should do that. I did all the right things. I got all the right awards. I finished school and still didn’t have any idea of what I was passionate about, so I went on to do ‘all the right degrees.’
I have fallen into jobs that are interesting and stimulating for me, and looking back, I am not sure if I would change the way I got here. But I want my children to be asking themselves the questions I was asking myself in my mid twenties, right now. What is it that I really want to do?
There are three people who stick in my mind when I think about passion. As far as I know, none of them were unschoolers. But here are their stories as I remember them. Some I know intimately, others I got just a glimpse.
The first of my super three, was a vibrant personality who was midway through her PhD when we met. We only met a couple of times through a mutual friend at university. This person would likely not even remember me, but I remember her and she had a profound impact on me. Through no intention on her part, she helped me see clearly the prejudice I was placing on what was and wasn’t a logical pursuit in my mind.
She had chosen to study a combined degree of Chemistry and Fine Arts as an undergrad. What a bizarre and unusual combination! Her two passions. By some stroke of luck, or maybe good fortune with who surrounded her, she had blocked out the voices of reason that had so influenced my own choices about what would and wouldn’t lead to a job and success. By the time our paths had crossed, her PhD had led her to finding a way to match fluorescent paint, which had never been done, and to photograph fluorescence in paintings. The last I heard, she was travelling the world restoring pop art era masterpieces. Who even knew that job existed?
The thing is that there are thousands of jobs I have no idea about. And that is right now. Who knows what new niches will exist by the time my own children mature to the age that society has deemed them worthy of earning their keep. What we believe, is that they are unlikely to find them if we stand in their way with our own ideas about what is out there.
The second hero of my stories hits close to home and is modelled to my children every day. My husband. At school, my husband was not the classic overachiever, unless you are counting top marks in Mario Kart and fun. He scraped his way into university, choosing science because he kind of liked it. His first year out of home and studying was marked by one hell of a good time and a grand finale in front of the academic board justifying why it was that he should be allowed to continue studying. He charmed his way through, and in his second year of university, he did a first year geology course to make up the points he needed. Geology isn’t offered in the vast majority of schools so most kids wouldn’t even consider it as a field of study when applying to university. Something clicked. Suddenly he was driven to get out of bed and learn more. He ended up topping his class, receiving first class honours, going on to do his PhD and is hugely successful in his field. And he is still a really good time.
As I look at my husband, weirdly passionate about rocks, letting it consume his downtime as well as his work time, I can see our children watching what it is like to live your passion. I want that for them.
Which brings me to my final protagonist. And eyebrows.
When I was about 21, I was visiting my parents on a university break and I went to this upmarket salon to have my eyebrows shaped. My beautician would have been in her thirties. She avoided all the normal chit chat and gossip and got straight to work. She was intense. But she wasn’t quiet for long. This was to be quite the education. She spent the entire session talking at a hurried pace, trying to squeeze as much information as she could in to our allotted time together. I heard all about the architecture of the eyebrow, the quality of the tools, how she spends her spare time learning more about eyebrows through new tattoo techniques and other experts. She was proud of the decade or more that she had dedicated to her art. I can remember lying there in silence and thinking in awe, I wish I cared that much about ANYTHING. This woman was truly passionate about eyebrow shaping.
Interacting with people who are impassioned by what they do is so inspiring. You see, everyone is different. We need people who are passionate in every field. This is what drives innovation and pushes knowledge in different areas to the next level. Every field can benefit from this. Not everyone’s path will lead to university. Not everyone’s path will mirror your own ideas of what it is to be successful. I don’t know what it is that my kids are searching for. I don’t know what spark will turn into a fire that keeps burning year after year. But I do know that how we interact with our kids and the messages we send, have the power to fan the flames or extinguish them.