Today I came home from my son's fifth grade graduation and discovered that the three baby robins nested on top of our electric box have flown away. I was hit with a conflicting sensation of simultaneous joy and loss.
On the one hand I had been concerned that the electric box was not the best place for baby birds. I often worried that one day I would come home to find a wounded or dead baby bird on my deck. Realizing that all three birds had successfully flown the nest meant that they had survived their perilous place of origin. They were grown, they had flown!
On the other hand, I'm going to miss the excitement of getting to watch them grow. I had come to enjoy coming out every day to see how they were doing. Now I will just have to wonder when I see a robin in my backyard if it might be one of the babies all grown up coming back for a visit.
For this to happen on the same day that my son is done with elementary school forever struck me as particularly poignant. Isn't this the same tension that as parents we must always balance? The sense of pride as we watch our children accomplish their next steps, combined with that bittersweet feeling of loss that they are growing up.
If everything goes well and we do our jobs right, our children fly away and leave us with an empty nest. Every milestone they hit, every grade they advance to, as much as our hearts swell with pride there is another feeling there too. That small sense of mourning that our babies are growing up.
As a parent I am often surprised by how little our education system has changed since I was a kid. Earlier tonight my son's fifth grade class presented their powerpoint presentations on influential people in Colorado. One student described a famous explorer who was sent to apprentice with a master at the age of ten, as was common at the time.
This really caught my attention and I found myself contemplating what life would be like if we gave ten year olds the opportunity to apprentice with a master in the field of their choosing.
I thought about what I was like at ten. Introverted and observant, I was more comfortable with books than people. I had an ongoing monologue in my head that turned all of my observations of the world into stories.
I was passionate about animals and the environment, and I wanted to be an astronaut so I could explore space. But most of all, I wanted to be a writer.
And I still do. My ten year old self knew what I wanted to do with my life, and twenty seven years later I'm still "trying to figure out what I really want to do" because I can't shake the message that I got as a kid that "nobody makes a living as a writer" and "to be successful you have to stay in school".
Through middle school and high school I was forced to spend a little bit of time on a lot of different subjects so that I could take tests that proved that I had sufficiently memorized what has largely turned out to be a lot of useless information.
But what if I wasn't forced to learn all that stuff? What if I were given the opportunity to apprentice with a master instead? If at ten I was encouraged to pursue my true passions and taught how to make a living doing what I enjoy, I think I would have been a lot happier throughout my life.
But instead I suffered through years of misery trying to do things I wasn't good at and didn't enjoy because that was how our education system was set up.
And that terrible system hasn't changed. A quarter of a century later my son is complaining to me that he doesn't understand why he's being forced to learn stuff he doesn't enjoy and can't see using in real life. It's hard because as a parent I'm supposed to support his teachers, but often I find myself agreeing with his assessment.
Why are we still forcing kids to learn useless information? Kids growing up today aren't allowed to focus on their subjects of interest until college, and even then they often are forced to take general classes until their third or fourth year. And we wonder why so many people are lost and unhappy, pursuing careers they don't enjoy because they don't know what they really want to do, when most of them probably did know once, before it was educated out of them.
I'm not suggesting that we completely stop teaching multiple subjects after fifth grade, but I do think we need to reevaluate this broken system. It was designed for an industrial age when we needed lots of workers to do basic tasks that required very little creativity, ingenuity or passion. That time is dead. We need fully evolved human beings with as much creativity and ingenuity as possible. Not only for the general happiness of the population, but in order to evolve quickly enough to survive as a species.
Imagine what your life would be like if your passions had been encouraged and nurtured throughout your schooling. What would that look like? Let's create that world together. It might be too late for our childhood selves, but it's not too late for the kids that will usher in the future. Let's make it happen.
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!