I truly believe that there are very few things that make being smart as important as someone being well-rounded, healthy, alert. All the brain cells in the world won’t keep you from running into another car if you aren’t paying attention. Just as being smart won’t keep your heart from failing if you become over-weight or obese. Does this mean that we stop learning to work on not falling asleep at the wheel? Of course, not. Does this mean we stop learning in order to make our bodies into something the Olympian Gods would be envious of? Of course not.
Some of the greatest thinking in this world came from brains living in bodies that we simply can’t call healthy. Look at the Greek philosophers, the Roman statesman – I doubt Cicero cared if he was good looking, or even the French intellectuals who honestly believed that being out of breath simply walking to their rooms at night was preferable to losing sight of the great strides they were making.
My mother is brilliant; you know the kind that can do the New York Times crossword in pen. She can write code better than the college students she often has to work with. It simply comes to her. It is a mathematical understanding of complex computer rhythms that look to her like Mickey Mouse paintings. And while there was a time when she, like everyone in modern time, wished to be slim and beautiful, there was always the understanding that this wasn’t her primary objective.
My father was a different kind of brilliant. He was the one who was forced to help me build my projects throughout grade school. My village of Jamestown made with Popsicle sticks and real sand was inspiring. My father never cared what I knew, he cared how I presented myself. But there was a brilliance there as well. His bank account backs me up.
My father and mother were both smart in their own ways, and despite the fact those ways were vastly different there was a goal to be found. And they found it and tried to show their daughters. While my father spent hours at the gym to present himself in a light that would get him noticed and therefore allow him to succeed, my mother spent as much time wishing my sister and I were her. A person where knowledge was simply easy.
My sister struggled throughout school and needed a lot of my mother’s attention. My father wasn’t going to help. Ironically she is a highly successful lawyer in one of the biggest cities in the United States. So at least my mother’s attention made something great.
I was different. I didn’t need anyone’s help in school, certainly not with homework or book reports. I had my mother’s ability to simply know the answer. But there was one difference between my mother and I; she learned her languages because it was an escape from life for her, and I learned my languages by reading to escape. Sounds alike, but there is one inescapable difference – working toward math contains periodical walls of frustration, where reading to escape was easy and so rewarding. I don’t know how 2+2 is rewarding, but I know how that happy ending felt.
My smarts, however you measure something like that, makes it possible for me to easily read numerous books in one sitting. I can read a book a day even in the busy life that I am currently living. And despite the numerous medications I take on a daily basis to control my brain and how it reacts I still can memorize facts without taking the time to actually do so. I hear something once and it is there.
How I got here isn’t important; I already live it. What is important is simply how do I teach my children the same?
I often wondered if my mental illness has allowed me to successfully block and move information around in my brain so that I could become the person that I am. I have wondered if the way my brain is hard-wired simply makes it easier for knowledge to slip through my defenses. I know without a doubt that reading a book certainly keeps away the emotional angst that is as part of me as this decisive smarts. I wonder if breaking down and reading a book has allowed my brain to be calm enough to absorb information and retain that information when others can’t.
I didn’t write this post to brag about the brains I have or not have. I actually had a higher question in mind. How in the world do we teach our children?
First let it be said that I believe the teachers in our school system are unfairly underpaid and have to follow a curriculum that not only stops a child’s ability to investigate and see beyond the status quo (please stop teaching that Paul Revere rode anywhere on his horse that fateful night) but causes the children to lose the opportunity to find the passion to change the way we see the world. This is not a teacher’s fault and if you asked every teacher in America I would argue not one of them would say they wanted to teach in order to be who and what they are today. So let’s take them out of the equation…sadly.
We as parents, whether we wish to admit it or not, depend on social media to help entertain our children and keep them from destroying our own work. Maybe if they were more challenged in school, given more tools to see beyond the historical untruths that are taught daily, television wouldn’t seem like the answer. If children had to take more time to learn something new, and not easily defined, could parents find the break they desperately need? Bored children equals children in front of the television. The world is simply too scary to risk our children’s lives in another way.
So how do we teach our children to be smart? While I am comfortable recognizing that some of that intelligence is born within us, a part of us at the time of conception, we can’t rely solely on that. We certainly can’t use that as an excuse to stop teaching our children or giving ourselves permission to allow our children to be on the media instruments rather than in a book.
In case you are wondering, let me stop right now and let you know that both of my children are currently watching Minecraft videos as I type this. I know the prevailing thought about this but I always wonder who it is that are stating there is always a different choice. My children are watching their videos because I want to write an article and I simply can’t do it when they are running around my home or asking me a thousand questions in order to find something to do.
I do have a list of things that my children must accomplish each day. The list includes 20 minutes of math, 20 minutes of reading, writing sentences with vocabulary two grades ahead of where they are, and 20 minutes of reading comprehension (it’s summer break here). They are also required to do the dishes, straighten the house, and find 20 minutes of outside time to round out their day. The media mindlessness is used around this to give me breaks and transition into other activities I try, really, really, hard to come up with. I am not good at coming up with other activities. I like predictably too much.
Are the things I am asking of my children making them smarter? I don’t believe so. I believe all it is doing is preparing them to have a leg up next year. A simple way to give them the self-confidence to believe in themselves. To me knowledge doesn’t come from books or televisions but the truth, the inescapable elements of a greater purpose. They have to learn not just math, but where you apply that math in a real setting. I could go on but I won’t.
I struggle with the question of trying to decide if what I am doing is giving my children not only the resources to be smart but giving my children the opportunity to see beyond the standard thought element to what is possible. I need my children to look at space or the ocean and see beyond the few things that we know. I need my children to realize that we have only unearthed 4% of Egypt’s Gaza understanding we know almost nothing about that ancient society. I need for my children to understand that ultimately the Civil War was about something more important than slavery. I need for my children to understand that we don’t know the intricate details of DNA nor the human brain. I need them to try and ask the question no one is giving them the knowledge to find.
I like to imagine all mothers go through something similar. I like to imagine that there are thousands of mothers out there who are screaming at what we are doing to our children in the home and outside of it. And I like to pray that there will be those children who see beyond the obvious they are being taught to the greatness no one knows about. I have to believe this. Because while we are not in a Great Renaissance, we are still living in a world of unimaginable answers.