Meaning vs. Obligation

I think the most powerful lesson of the Wondertree story is that these kids were working on a project that was meaningful to them. They saw how important the project was, not only to the conservation of the environment, but to their parents’ financial well-being and even their future ability to pay for college. There were multiple levels of meaning that compelled them to take on the project and propelled them forward when it was challenging.

Most children are told what to learn and when to learn it. They are made to follow a production schedule that has no room for personal reflection. They have to prove they are good enough to meet some artificial set of standards, which happens to separate them from their curiosity, strengths, and interests. Where is meaning for these kids who are corralled into regular classrooms? What compels them to learn? What propels them forward when it gets a little challenging? Why aren’t we giving these children projects that mean something to them, their families, and their community? Why aren’t we cultivating their understanding and experience of being part of something bigger than themselves?

I know that there are a lot of heart-centered teachers and administrators in our school systems, and I know that they are doing their best. I also know that things are beginning to shift for the better. With the introduction of personalized learning programs, social-emotional intelligence, and the latest trend of mindfulness filling their professional development agendas, I am feeling more optimistic than ever that things are going in a good direction and that teachers will eventually be able to enjoy the work they were called to do.

And here, I think it’s really important that we discuss the ones that have the most power to make that change—the parents.

Since the industrial revolution, parents have been encouraged and then mandated to send their children to school. They were assured that experts were going to teach their children what they needed to know to be good, successful citizens. And so, they sent them. For several decades, it seemed this approach to education was churning out good citizens; but times have changed, consciousness has evolved, and the education system is lagging behind.

I can tell you that this mindset of outsourcing the development of our youth is still prevalent among the majority of parents, not because they don’t care, but because most of them have no idea that anything else is necessary or possible. Most of them don’t know that self-designed learning environments like Wondertree exist, and many of them who have heard about these learning communities are uncertain about taking this new pathway. Will their child get everything they need to succeed? 

What if we begin now, once and for all, to shift our thinking to the possibility that children are full of potential with the inner wiring to make connections through their own discovery and that the best learning environments are those that nurture their essence, cultivate their problem-solving skills, and give them the opportunity to collaborate and succeed alongside others?  

What was your education like? Did you have the opportunity to work on meaningful projects that made you feel like you were part of something important for the world? Did you own your learning process? Were you in an environment that nurtured your innate curiosity and strengths? Were you a people pleaser? Or did you question and retaliate with your opinions with those who had authority over you? Maybe you learned to play the game, and slowly dull your imagination in order to make the grade of what was expected from you. Maybe you didn’t see how you were conditioned or groomed to be during these developmental years, and how it set the tone for how you engage at work and at home. 

For myself, I did not get to the root cause of my disappointments in life until I made these inquiries for myself. I never felt that my opinions mattered, so I stuffed them and did not learn how to speak from my own voice until I was in my mid-twenties. And I have met people much older than that who can’t quite put their finger on what was missing because everyone around them went through the same experience. 

That’s just the way it is, right?

My answer is “No.” I can no longer accept this lie we have been telling ourselves. It’s time to look with new eyes and accept that we have arrived just in time to co-generate an evolutionary step toward freeing our capacity as humans—listening to the emerging future leaders who are eager to be invited into sharing their authentic selves, as we all design a better world now. 

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