Monday, March 7, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson

I am supposed to be sleeping, but instead I am up alone, reading a biography of Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know I'll regret it in the morning, but I can't seem to shut down for the night. 

Earlier tonight, Steve and I were talking about education of our kids.  And how sometimes I wonder that if I follow my children down these paths, hoping for passion in learning above nearly anything else...will there be these huge gaping holes I left behind?

We don't do math worksheets, my child had to beg me to teach him cursive, but we send him to Russian classes.  They build intricate structures from scratch out of Legos, but I've never once sat down and formally taught them phonics. They just kind of stumble into reading by asking the questions. I know in part I'm spoiled, because they ask me to learn things, pummel me with questions, and have insatiable curiosity.  But still.  I'm not an organized teacher. 

Our educational path is so unconventional that there's no measure of how it's going.  We don't do public or private school, we're not really homeschoolers (in my definition) what are we?  They go to co-op two days a week, and Jack's SEP program at W&M, and we just do all sorts of non-quantifiable learning elsewhere. 

I tell myself that if you're passionate enough about learning, you'll fill in those gaps.  I wasn't a committed student.  School was a terrible fit for me. But at age 32, I'm unable to go to bed because I can't put down a biography of an astrophysicist from the Bronx.  Or reading every scrap of information I can find about immune systems and gut flora.  While the passion for getting good grades didn't happen until late college, that passion for information-seeking must be there.

When I think about what I want from my children's future learning, it really IS about passion.  It's not about having a conventional education, it's about having educational hunger and doing something they deeply love. 

That's why I love Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Seeing him speak, I could feel that he was in that profession not because it was the one his parents or society wanted...but because he couldn't keep himself away from it.  Like when I went back to graduate school, because I figured I might as well get credits for all the economics reading I was doing. 

I don't care what my children become, but I want them to know who they are.  And I want to give them the tools to find that out.

I loved one particular part of Neil's book.  On the heels of my conversation with Steve, this came at a perfect time.  His parents were not scientists, so they couldn't teach him the specifics of what he loved.  But they supported him in what he loved.  That's the model I want to have in my motherhood:

I must have had the first ever "soccer mom," except the activity wasn't soccer, it was after-school astronomy.  With my telescope, camera, and other observing accessories, I would drag both of my parents (separately and together) in and out of cars, up and down stairs, in and out of fields, and to and from the library, all in the support of my astrohabit.

I will not soon forget when I was building my wooden Saturn lamp in seventh grade.  My mother and I drove to at least six different hardware stores one afternoon just to acquire the necessary, but unusual, electrical conduit that threads pole to pole through the wooden orb.

Furthermore, most weekends we would visit one of the city's many museums, and my parents were always on the lookout for affordable math and science books.

My parents never told me where to go or what to learn, which ensured that my life's interests were pure.  To this day, my parents remain two of the most warm and caring parents I have known.

If only every child had this type of parents, no matter what the future career - artist, scientist, writer, whatever.  Love it.


Michelle said...

Thank you for this post. I recently realized that School and Homeschool are not our only choices for learning.

Sarahbeth said...

I agree, Michelle. Things really are more flexible than it first appears. Especially in this area, with SO many options. It can be overwhelming at first, but then liberating. :)