Friday, June 1, 2007

To My Children

Dear Parker and Audrey,

I have been meaning to write to you about your futures, but the pressure has not really mounted, being that neither of you can read just yet. However, the ideas and thoughts I have about your futures are beginning to overwhelm me at this point, and I felt that I should at least commence something in the way of a letter to your future selves.

On the way to school today, you and I were talking, Parker, and you asked where the yellow school bus in front of us was going. My answer, without thinking, was of course, "to school." But you were quicker than that and immediately asked "why?" My answer was to tell you that it was taking the kids to school so they could learn.

As soon as I said it, something in my head clicked. That was the wrong answer, or at least the wrong syntax. The way I said it to you implied that school is exclusively the place where you go to learn, and that could not be further from the truth. This is true today, and will be increasingly more so as you and your sister get older.

Your future contains aspects that no future has ever contained before, the most key being something we call ubiquitous access. What that means is that you will be able to learn, gain access to, and process information from any location you are in: a school, a city sidewalk, running through the woods with your father. That changes things more than you can imagine. For your mother and me, when we wanted information, or wanted to learn, we had to physically move ourselves to where that information was. In most cases, it was school, and in special cases a library, museum, or artistic event. Your future will give you the opportunity to seize an idea at any moment and go with it, unhindered by physical constraints or the constraints of individuals who might want that information for themselves.

The biggest shift for you in relation to my comment about the children going to school to learn: you will have more teachers than your mother and I did combined. Your teachers will be accessible to you at any time and will come in the form of professionals in the field of study you are interested in, databases and visualizations that people create for you, and yes actual teachers in your school who are connecting to teachers of their own to continue to learn and explore. Your learning cycle will not stop arbitrarily at age 18 or 22, but will be continuous throughout your life and will be filled with several careers combined into one. Where your mother and I were taught to be concerned with facts and linear thinking, you will be taught to find patterns, see bigger pictures, and connect ideas that bear no resemblance to one another on the surface.

I know that it was just a question that you asked, Parker, and in twenty years you will not remember it at all, but to me it signified something larger. Your future is not just my responsibility as a parent, it is also my responsibility as someone in the position to institute real change in the way we understand and execute the processes of learning and teaching.

My real hope for you is that you discover what I have recently discovered about working: it has to be grounded in the same ideas you are using now at your ages. Discovery. Mistake. Attempt. Attempt. Attempt. Failure. BooBoo and ouch. Play. Build. Create. Mix. Smear. Mess.

I love you both.


Pete Reilly said...


Beautifully done...

Here is a passage from Issac Asimov's, "The Fun They Had"

Margie went into the schoolroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.

The screen was lit up, and it said: “Today’s arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday’s homework in the proper slot.”

Margie did so with a sigh. She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things, so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.

And the teachers were people…

The mechanical teacher was flashing on the screen: “When we add the fractions 1/2 and 1/4…”

Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.”


Patrick Higgins said...

Great stuff, Pete. One of the comments I always get from teachers I work with is if I envision a day when there is no need for teachers. I can't imagine there ever not being a need for someone to coach, mentor, and guide students as they make their journeys through learning.

Jerrell Jobe said...

Nicely done!

I have 3 children - the oldest - 4 1/2 - and he typically hits his quota of 300+ questions a day, most of which are very similar to the "school" question. Almost daily, I find myself struggling to find an adaquate answer to his questions... The "patent" answers seem so empty as the words are formed and ready to come out of my mouth...

...and yet, the more he asks (the more the patience wanes), and everything within me wants to give the 'patent - dead-end' answer that will give me some reprieve.... (horrible I know!)

The operative word there was "wants".... There are those moments where I restrain that urge and dive into the spiral of questions with him, trying to discover something new.... Trying to inspire hunger for learning.... and the awe of discovery.... and the open-endedness of life - so that "we" keep searching together....

The last thing I want is to cripple any of these things with my selfish-had-enough-of-the-questions-here's-my- lousy-dead-end-answer!

As Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Hopefully as those who instruct, model and parent we will be given enough grace to cultivate the "artist" within our children, and rediscover it ourselves.

Patrick Higgins said...


I know that feeling all too well, and I have been surprising myself with the answers that I make up. We can look to making up outlandish answers if we need something to resist the urge to give pat answers.

That quote from Picasso, something echoed in Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk, is wonderful, and I am definitely going to use it to help inspire some of the people I work with.