Freedom to Learn

In the past few weeks, Đán has stepped up his rollerblading game. He has good balance, some confidence, and a bit of fearlessness. He dropped into a halfpipe without using the coping. He jumped over a ramp with a huge gap in the center, which scared the heck out of me. If he missed the landing, I would have to call 911. He picked up new techniques fast. I showed him how to do the T-stop and the power stop from watching YouTube and he could do them in no time. He loved skateparks because of all the adventurous things he could do. Watching him making improvements day after day made me realize how he thrived. He learned everything on his own and he always kept himself challenged.

In contrast, he didn’t do too well in a structured environment. When he was taking ice skating lessons, he was bored out of his mind. He didn’t pay attention to his coach. He made snowballs with his skate and gave them to his classmate instead. His techniques weren’t too good because he didn’t follow the instructions. He just wanted to get them over with. Even though he plays hockey now, he would rather go to a skatepark than an ice rink. Whenever I made him go to the ice rink to practice with us, he would just skate around us to get on our nerves.

Seeing his behavior at the skatepark and the ice rink becomes clear to me why he struggles at school. He is a bright kid who doesn’t like the structure of a classroom. Instead of paying attention to his teachers, he zoned out most of the time. When I asked him about his projects, he had no clue what he was supposed to do. I kept telling him that I wouldn’t be able to help him if he didn’t know the requirements. I can tell he has been trying hard because I warned him that I would ban him from playing video games if he didn’t keep up his grades. Despite his efforts, he seemed to be boxed in.

I wonder if there’s an alternative way for him to learn. Instead of giving him instructions to follow like ice skating lessons, we could provide him a skatepark-like environment to give him the freedom to learn and to explore on his own. The current educational system doesn’t accommodate kids like him.

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any better. I just had to follow the system. There were days I felt like I was in an educational prison. I counted the days until I graduated from high school. Even in college, I looked at the calendar every single day. I didn’t thrive until I finished my undergraduate. I learned design on my own and on the job.

In retrospect, would I need my high school, undergraduate, and graduate degrees for my profession? Hell no, but they are the papers that got me through the doors. I understand their values even if they don’t mean anything to me. I hung my graduate diploma on my wall not because I wanted to show off, but because I worked too damn hard for it and it doesn’t do anything other than taking up space on my wall.

I feel bad seeing Đán being trapped in the system, but until I could find an alternative solution, he just had to go through what I had been through. I would try homeschooling him to give him the freedom he needed, but I have to put food on the table for all of us.