The Opportunity to Be
July 26, 2013 § 26 Comments
One of the things I struggle with is “follow your own interests.” For me there’s an equivalent paradox: good schools expose kids to things they wouldn’t seek out on their own and thus many a child has developed an interest in something they didn’t previously know about. Or taken a class they didn’t want to, but learned something important because of it.
With the exception of the two hours we spent listening to good, live rock n’ roll last night (the family that rocks together, stays together) and the subsequent eight hours I passed in deep slumber, I’ve been mulling over the above portion of Julia’s comment almost since I saw it yesterday.
I think she’s right: Good schools and good teachers do expose kids to things they wouldn’t seek out on their own. Heck, even some bad schools and bad teachers might do this, however inadvertently. There’s no doubt that many a passionate interest has been kindled via this exposure. No doubt.
Penny and I talk all the time about what our obligation is to expose the boys to different people, subjects, ways of life, etc, etc. We are keenly aware that by immersing ourselves in a rural community, we are in some ways limiting them: There is little racial and ethnic diversity here, for instance. And the subject matters of their days tend to be those that are inherent to this particular place, and no other.
There’s no perfect solution to all of this. No matter how much we expose our children to, we (and by “we,” I mean the royal “we,” which of course includes you) cannot expose them to everything. The world is such an incredibly rich and diverse place, and that’s just the tangible, physical world; never mind the interior world of emotion and spirit. There will always be things are children are missing out on, no matter how hard we try to expand their views and opportunities, because of course a child, like an adult, has only so much capacity to absorb and assimilate. They have only so many hours in a day, a week, a month, a life.
All of which is to say, no matter how much we might like to think otherwise, we have no choice but to limit our children’s exposure to people, places, ideas, subject. Whatever our sons and daughters are experiencing at any particular time, means that by default, they are not experiencing something else. That’s just the way it is.
For better or worse, Penny and I have decided to expose Fin and Rye to this place. To immerse them in here. Part of this is because this is how we live our lives; to do anything else would necessitate a wholesale restructuring. But equally, it’s because we feel as if place is important. True, it is not something we tend to revere as a culture anymore, and how could we? Americans move on average every 5.2 years, and travel and choice are widely celebrated in our society. There is not nearly so much celebration of settling in, of not traveling, of choosing to limit one’s choices to that which is of their place.
I think about this a lot in terms of our culture’s assumptions regarding opportunity. We tend to think of opportunity – and no more so than when pertaining to our children – as being about advancement and accomplishment and recognition. Often, about expanded choice. But of course, these are not the only opportunities available to our children. Again, I don’t necessarily disagree with Julia; I think it is a fascinating and nuanced issue. As I did a couple of days ago, I’m going to take this opportunity (ha!) to draw from my upcoming book:
When we speak of opportunity, if we speak of it at all, let us speak not of advancement and recognition, of triumph and success. Instead, let us speak of the opportunity to function as a family, to focus our lifeblood on the needs of the heart, before allowing it to dissipate into the broader community and, finally, into the world at large. Let us speak of the opportunity to feel one’s own way into the world, to be allowed to unfold at whatever pace is dictated by the individual, rather than the institution. Let us speak of the opportunity to develop relationships that are meaningful outside the context of economic advancement and status, and perhaps even outside of the context of humanity. Let us speak of the opportunity to simply be.
I guess to sum it all up, the things Penny and I are hoping to expose our sons to, by allowing them to immerse themselves in this particular place, are more interior, than exterior. They are not so tangible as all the wonderful people, places, ideas, and subjects we might seek out for them if we lived a different life. An incomplete list might include the sense that they do not stand apart from nature, that the world is full of small and quiet wonders right outside their doorstep, that their needs are few and that their contentment is not available for purchase at any price, that learning is something to love, that their time belongs to them. There are more, of course, but you get the point.
Anyway. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this. And thank you, Julia, for a fascinating comment.