I Didn’t Much Like School After 6th Grade

I love learning. I LOVE to LEARN! I am a PASSIONATE LEARNER!!! (Sorry–I felt the caps and extra exclamation points were vital.)

When I was 16 years old and living in Kansas, I began phoning language departments at universities around the country to find a textbook that would allow me to teach myself Hindi. (Thank you, University of Pennsylvania and Ernest Bender.) When I wasn’t much older, I flew to Minnesota to study Bulgarian doctor Georgi Lozanov’s Accelerated Learning methods which had piqued my interest.

In my 20’s, I threw myself into alternative methods of teaching based on learning style research that was slowly beginning to challenge traditional models of education. In my 30’s, I immersed myself into learning how the brain influences behavior, folding neuropsychological teachings into my new career as a psychotherapist.

When I was in my 40’s I dove into studying neurofeedback, a form of brain-training that was proving invaluable in treating depression, anxiety, ADD and more. And in my 50’s, I found myself studying online CRM systems to manage communication with a tribe of parents interested in my work–a set of skills that had absolutely nothing to do with any aspect of my prior training or education.

But I loved it. I loved it all, because I’m a lifelong learner who is drawn to new horizons and ways to weave what I learn into my personal and professional life.

But by high school, the classroom was the last place I wanted to be.

I wanted to be out in the REAL world, growing in my craft (I knew that I wanted to teach.) I was desperate to be set free from the constraints of busywork and meaningless assignments, not to mention the ridiculous goings on in the social world of high school.

So I set up a schedule that let me leave school by noon and worked afternoons at a day care center. I did the bare minimum on my homework, much to the chagrin of teachers who knew that I was smart and wasn’t “living up to my potential.” I skated by. But learning within the confines of a classroom when all I wanted was to engage with the outside world was torturous.

In retrospect, it would have been great if someone had simply acknowledged the truth of my predicament instead of delivering patronizing pep talks about the importance of education is and how lucky I was to be getting one. (Both were true, but remember, I was a know-it-all teenager at the time.)

Many of you are parents of teenagers who also long to be let loose into the big, wide world. While some kids might waste that freedom–were they to have it–playing video games or fooling with Snapchat, others might transform into passionate learners if allowed to explore subjects that sing to them.

I am not advocating a mass exodus from high school; I strongly urge kids to get whatever degrees they can, if only because the world favors those who have been formally educated.

But if you have kids who–like me–love learning but don’t like school, encourage them to tell you their truth.

Don’t criticize their lack of enthusiasm or motivation. Don’t scold them to “try harder” or shame them by telling them how lucky they are to have the privilege of an education.

Keep it real. Honor the difficulty they face every morning as they leave home for six or seven hours in a place they dread–often a recipe for depression. Empathize with their dilemma, recognizing the importance of a diploma while acknowledging how hard it is to endure what is required to receive it.

Because it’s a funny thing about kids. When we set aside the script of what we think we should say to a youngster’s grumblings and allow them to feel what they feel without advising or lecturing, they somehow find their way toward acceptance of a difficult situation.

Let your kids know that you see their brilliance–in whatever form it takes. Whether it’s music or art or nature or painting–if you have a teen whose talent lies outside of the curriculum of a traditional school setting, or like in my case, longs for hands on learning instead of textbook assignments, make sure they have a chance to pursue studies outside of their school day to develop their craft.

Babies would rather explore their world than eat. Human beings are designed to learn. Although school can tamp down the passion for learning we’re born with, as parents we can do much to fan the flame and keep our children and teen’s fire for learning alive. In so doing, we give our kids the gift of a lifetime: a commitment to remain learners for life.

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Originally published at susanstiffelman.com on September 3, 2017.

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