We get to age 18 and we’re expected to decide on a career path or a University degree and we have no idea what we want to do. Some people take a gap year to ‘find themselves’ – and I wonder when they lost themselves.
Is this not itself an indictment of the pressures to make significant life decisions fresh out of school, in pursuit of the almighty rat race? While essentially gambling years of their lives and expensive schooling fees on succumbing to external pressures – just to ‘make it’ based on someone else’s benchmark of ‘success?’
To this, I think I know the answer.
What exactly have you been trained to do?
If you spend 5 days a week for 12 years of your childhood doing what other people tell you to do, learning what other people tell you to learn, thinking what other people tell you to think, then is it any wonder you might lose sight of who you truly are?
If you are always told which subjects you must invest in and for how long, is there any time left over to explore your true interests?
If you are kept motivated by extrinsic rewards and punishments – with your sense of validation turned outward, away from yourself and who you want to be – is it surprising that when those are removed, you find it hard to get motivated?
Even more cruelly, teenagers who experience this are then criticised for being ‘lazy’ and lacking direction when we have likely made them this way.
Traditional School, At what cost?
Don’t get me wrong. Some kids naturally tend to go off the tracks and are not intrinsically motivated. There are also kids for whom the structure and input in school provide a much-needed relief from difficult home or living situations. There are good teachers and schools with great cultures and ethos. But even in these scenarios, many times school is a refuge and a relief rather than a place to grow yourself.
School can be a place of stability and structure to some children, I am not one to deny them that. However, we should also be asking: at what cost? To what extent are the complacent attitudes toward rigid educational structures helpful, rather than limiting? But also, if schools must be a place of refuge, shouldn’t we be asking ‘refuge from what?’
How about letting kids figure it out for themselves?
If the answer is the uncertainty of life and adulthood, should we not then arm them with the tools to craft their own lives? How will kids ever know what they want to do if they are never allowed to really explore this – divorced from the external pressures of others’ validation, criticisms, and paving a road to becoming individuals who do not exist in their own lives?
Let’s start giving our children the means to not only study well but to give them the essential real-world skills to navigate their lives with agency and purpose: divest from our ideas about what success should mean that does not honour individuality and capability. Because after all, this probably remains one of the greatest barriers to true success that can be experienced by our children, beholden to no-one’s definition of what it should mean for them.