What is not agency? I recently asked my brother if he thinks his 13-year-old son has agency in learning, and he told me (rather defensively) that he most certainly has. There are electives at school,
|She's a bad mother.|
So I tried a few things. I didn’t ask anybody’s permission, and to be honest, a lot of this was probably terrible parenting. In Cambodia in 2011, I put our then-11-year-old son up to swimming across the Mekong River in a charity competition with me and other athletes. I sent our boys on an unaccompanied trip to Mongolia to live with a family I'd only heard of through a friend. I left my oldest son in Bishkek for a month in a woman’s apartment whom I had just met to work as an intern for an American company when he was 15. And at 16, I sent him to Shanghai to study, and he got lost in the train station for 24 hours. As the mother-bird watching her chick fall (or not getting any response to calls for 24 hours), I can say this is a really terrifying process.
But I believe that what was kicking-in within my sons’ chests when they fought against the current, or navigated an airport, or found the way to Xinxiang, was an instinctive agency. I will make myself survive. I can figure this out. And I believe that this agency can only be unlocked when there are real choices and real risks.
Now I am guiding the first clusters of teenagers in BreakAway Learning, and we message each other almost constantly. There is a recurring theme. Which online course should I take first? Which biology book should I read? Which pages should I start with? How much should I read today? These are 17 and 19-year-olds. And while I’m glad to make preliminary searches on Udemy and Coursera, to provide the Scribd subscription so that they have access to an e-library, I want them to take charge. Decide which course is more interesting. Decide which tutorial is more helpful. If a book is poorly organized or not captivating, put it down. Overcoming a deeply-ingrained view of education as an externally-applied process to which one passively conforms is turning out to be a very difficult transition for many of our teens. They are trained to believe in an intelligent machinery that has planned their education and linked it to a future pathway, that the utility of content and the promise of later reward are certain. What is required of them, they have been told, is to FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.
The great betrayal: We have no further plan for you
School administrators and the education industry work up to a climax that precedes the fall from the
|Tell me what I should do after the clapping, mom.|
But what comes next? Here is the great betrayal. Noone within this self-enclosed system has any relationship to the real world. No one knows what this empty-chested man will do with himself when he is 24, 27, 32. Will he start a small business? Enlist in the armed forces? Marry the girl whom he got pregnant? In other words, will he MAN UP?
How can we expect it, when the words themselves are toxic?