Monday, September 15, 2014

Non-Linear Learning

You never know where something you're interested in is going to take you.

This has come up a lot around here lately, as the boys get older and put more and more of their own ideas into what they do all day. It's made me remember, from what seems like a long time ago, when I could say to them "hey, that class about rocket science/archaeology/drawing sounds interesting, want to try it?" and confidently expect an unequivocal – enthusiastic – "yes!"

Even strewing things nonchalantly around the house doesn't work as well as it used to, although that is probably because I still strew things based on pre-tween interests… Books about building with Lego or paper airplanes just don't get picked up anymore.

Now, strewn items are more likely to be those that Ben and I just forgot to pick up, which brings me to my original point. When somebody is done reading, for example, Smithsonian magazine and leaves it open on the table to an article about Abraham Lincoln, just by accident, and then Owen sits down next to it to eat breakfast, is the article about Abraham Lincoln what he reads? No, he is far more interested in the side effects for the prescription drug advertisement on the facing page. He giggles his head off, reading about some of the really sickening side effects and asks: why would anyone in their right mind take that medicine when it causes such awful side effects, sometimes even causing what it supposedly cures?

Which inevitably leads to this: It's happy! It's fun! It's Happy Fun Ball!
(Best line: Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.)

Which leads to one of our many conversations about advertising, truth, incentives, ethics… and suddenly both 10- and 14-year-olds are excited, engaged, laughing, sharing, thinking for themselves.
We have entered an age where an interest in Green Day leads to the mastery of bar chords, where the desire to share about Dungeons and Dragons leads to a writing game called The Silent Conversation because the only way I can stand to hear one more fact about D&D is silently.

Sometimes, it is still really hard to embrace the non-linear learning, because I wonder, what if they're not learning the right stuff? I wish the learning could be more linear, that there was some proscribed path leading brightly into the future for them. At times like that, I try to look to the past, especially the very recent past in which they have made wonderfully sound decisions for themselves that carry their interests forward. Luke, working with power tools, plumb lines, and angles to help build our new gaga pit; Owen striving to improve his bike riding skills to ride all over the campground with his cousins, both expert riders.

Could it be that they really are on a proscribed path leading brightly to the future?