By Martin Forte
For the last 25 years I have been counseling teens with respect to high school curriculum and beyond. I must admit, the saddest encounters are with older teens that either do not have a dream or have lost it. Unfortunately, it is not surprising that this reality exists. This essay will try to identify many of the reasons teens do not have a solid dream but also offer some suggestions to remedy the problem.
THE EDUCATION SYSTEM:
The modern American education system is overly concerned with academic progress based on “age equals grade” versus a system based on mastery. When a child is promoted on a predictable age basis, he is often forced into a higher grade without any significant level of mastery. Imagine a high school student receiving a “C” in Pre-Algebra who is promoted to Algebra I. Mathematically, he is forced into the higher level with only a 70% level of understanding of the material, putting him at a disadvantage relative to the student receiving an “A” in the Pre-Algebra class. Over time, this process will minimize if not destroy the child’s confidence level and he will just give up. I challenge the homeschool community to dare to enter into the world of mastery and take your time. In high school for example, if a student takes a year and a half to master Pre-Algebra, we would give him an “A” for one academic year on the transcript. Now if that same student masters Algebra I in half a year we would give him an “A” for one academic year. This process ensures a higher degree of accomplishment in the long run and can reinforce the dreams and goals of the student.
“The contemporary system is also based on the assumption that all students must attend a college or university after high school graduation.”
We have noticed this trend over the last several years, especially for students being served by the Public Charter Programs. The reality is that not everyone is destined to be a college student. Again, the student has lost control of his destiny resulting in many lives not fulfilling their potentials or living in a state of frustration and problems. This also results in students being enslaved in classes (Calculus or Advanced Biology) that are not required for an individual student’s dream. The danger here is the potential for the performance level of the disinterested student to drop to below standards. This is a system that will minimize if not destroy the child’s confidence level, possibly causing him to just give up.
Many parents also provide an influential pressure in the stealing of the dream. It is amazing how many parents make life decisions for their high school age children based on what the parents want for their child, not what the child really desires. Parents have a difficult time transforming from a controlling parent (required in early childhood at times) to an advisory agent. For many, the necessity of having bragging rights is too powerful to overcome. This is true on both sides of the financial spectrum, from struggling parents looking for a scholarship to very successful parents needing the professional lineage to continue. From a practical perspective, I do understand the love by which they promote the idea of going to college but dismiss the ignorance from which they speak. The passion, skill sets, talents and the dream must come from the child, not the school or parent. Yes, the school or parent can be advisory in nature, but not dictatorial.
The power of a child with a dream is awesome and amazing. As an example, my daughter at age 10 informed my wife and I that she wanted to be a pilot. Our reaction was very simple, we embraced the dream and for the next several years used aviation as the core point in her education. When she was 12, she wanted to be a missionary. Fast forward to age 20 and she is the first woman pilot sent to Kenya on a missionary organization’s aviation team.
I remember with fondness the first day I met a new student, Jake. He was eight or nine at the time and I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His immediate answer was, “Elvis Presley!” I just looked down at him and replied, “That is awesome!” Jake was very fortunate to have parents that were fully behind his dream, and we supported him as well. Today in his mid-twenties he is a rising star as an Elvis Presley tribute artist. The exciting aspect of these stories is that both individuals are very happy and enjoy their lives to the fullest.
A MORE PERFECT SOLUTION:
The more optimal solution is a process that starts much earlier in life. Starting at an early age, be sure to encourage exploration. Very young children tend to be very curious and want to explore. Their desire to discover, explore and experiment is at a peak. Too many parents tend to be somewhat overcautious if not overwhelmed by this activity. This protectionist mode often hinders the child’s desire to expand their curiosity and explorative nature. Your attitude toward the compromise between exploration and safety comes to a collision at this point. If you overwhelm your child with too many safety concerns, it will eventually diminish the desire to explore. This is of critical importance since you are forming the child’s risk assessment abilities. Don’t forget that people who are excessively concerned with safety will work for risk takers later in life. This is not saying, give the child no boundaries, but do not imprison him either. The purpose of education should be to create the love of learning and over time create a self-learner.
Later in life (pre-teen and later) it is imperative that you allow ample time for exploration. Within the homeschool community there are so many opportunities available. A homeschool student can participate in field trips, apprenticeships, work exploration, you tube videos and finding a mentor.
“Do not be so enslaved by the academic portion of a child’s education that you give up on exploration.”
It is also imperative that you follow the road of mastery versus age-equals-grade options.
The creation of the “Dream” must take a very high priority at this point. If you want to raise happy, focused teens, do not neglect the formation and execution of the dream process. Look at it this way, a person with a dream has a purpose. People with a purpose overwhelmingly make better decisions. After all, too many poor decisions will have the potential of destroying the dream. From a practical parenting perspective, a teen with a dream is much easier to discipline over one that does not. For example, if your child is in the process of making a poor choice, all you have to do is ask him, “Will this action help or hurt your goal?” The propensity of your child making a good choice is very high therefore allowing him to self-correct without your having to do the correcting.
From a purely academic perspective, knowing the life path of your child will provide you with the knowledge to create a better high school curriculum.
“The regimen of a serious college prep curriculum will be of no value to a vocationally-orientated student.”
Why would a person desiring to become a master electrician need an intense Biology class? What a horrible waste of time and money. This student would be far better off spending time studying the subjects best suited for an electrician. His activities can include working for an electrician, taking YouTube classes on the basics, talking to a professional electrician, exploring the types of career paths available to an electrician, taking field trips and possibly taking community college courses.
Conversely, the same consideration should be given to a student interested in becoming a doctor or attorney. In these cases, he would be better served by taking rigorous college preparatory courses. His electives and extracurricular activities should be centered on the field he is interested in. Volunteering or working for a professional person in the field of interest is highly recommended. Working on an AA or AS degree from a community college while in high school can provide a phenomenal advantage when he is in the process of applying to a university. For a high school student interested in attending a university it is highly recommended to go way beyond the minimum high school graduation requirements. Most high school graduates generally graduate with approximately 230 units whereas many of the students I counsel graduate with up to 350 units that include a wide range of electives. Don’t forget, your transcript becomes your advertising campaign in the application process to attend a good university. Your objective is to make your transcript as unique as possible with an impressive list of extracurricular activities. People really do judge the book by the cover!
“Excessive time spent on video games is destroying many children’s dreams, especially boys. The addiction rate in video game playing is at an all-time high.”
What does this mean for your children? First of all, if your child is playing six to eight hours of video games per day, they have entered into the hellish land of addiction. Just like an addiction to alcohol or drugs, the addiction to video games, especially with excessive violence, is a dream destroyer. Leonard Sax MD, PhD (Author of Boys Adrift) states, “If you truly want to bring your child back to a healthy state, limit your child’s video game time to no more than 40 minutes during the week and one hour on weekend days.” He also recommends in an article, (Epoch Times September 21, 2022) a total removal of all games and video devices if your child cannot control his addiction. Yes, that does sound extreme, but the addiction is also extreme. Your child will pay the short-term price of anger and frustration now for the reward of accomplishing his dream in the future.
THE POWER OF EXPLORATION:
Now that your child has more time as a result of reducing video game time, you can find ways to reinforce or expand your child’s dreams. For the high school student, the opportunities are phenomenal. Start with weekly or bi-weekly progress meetings. Ideally, this will be done during lunch with your child at a quiet restaurant. The downside of having these meetings in the home is that emotions are given too much freedom there. At a quiet restaurant, your emotions are more contained, and we tend to respond instead of reacting. These partnerships with your child can be rewarding and give all parties the sense of purpose and forward momentum. Another unintended consequence of this activity is increased bonding between you and your children. Exploration can also be accomplished through a great program called concurrent enrollment, allowing a high school student to enroll in community college courses. What a fantastic way to explore different subjects and areas of interest. The beauty of this program is that your student gets credit for both college and high school. This is a win-win opportunity.
Encourage your children to start their own businesses or get a part time job during high school. These two options provide invaluable experiences that will enhance the probability of future success. If the part time effort correlates with the child’s dreams and goals, so much the better. Investigate the possibility of an apprenticeship for your child. Successful apprenticeships can lead to confirmation of the dream, guaranteed job placement after high school, enhanced opportunities in college and the realization of the benefits of success. Don’t forget that these experiences can be converted to high school credits on their transcripts.
Hopefully you have enjoyed this journey into the power of the dream as well as your child’s ownership of his destiny. If executed properly, both you and your student will achieve great accomplishments in the next 10 – 15 years as well as a close relationship that will produce happiness for life.
SOME RESOURCES FOR CONSIDERATION
- Discover Your Child’s Learning Style
- By Mariaemma Willis, M.S. and Victoria Kindle Hodson, M.A.
- Boys Adrift
- By Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.
- Failure To Connect – How Computers Effect Our Children’s Minds
- By Jane M. Healy, Ph.D.
- The Power of Play : Learning What Comes Naturally
- By David Elkind
For detailed information on the above resources please go to https://www.excellenceineducation.com/all-about-learning