Mama Cass recorded “Make Your Own Kind of Music” back in 1969. I was nineteen. Joe Holmes must be about the same age today. Some things hold across generations. In his column in the youth section of the Free Lance Star, Joe writes, “We don’t consider it the “goal” of a song to get to the end.” Titled, Formative Years Shouldn’t be Squandered on ‘Preparation he supports his premise by observing
The late teens and early 20s are the basket where almost all of natural selection's eggs lie. We are at the peak of our vitality, at our most robust, and full of vibrancy because all those traits are what are most important for our species to have to survive. In a sense, young adulthood is the most energetic and powerful time of a person's life; why are we being sat in classrooms all day and made to feel helpless?
You can almost feel his engine of life racing and it’s a little scary! They are so young and there is so much they don’t yet know. They are so confident because life hasn’t yet taught them many hard lessons. We mature folk can’t help but think: “They just aren’t ready!” I’m sure that is what my parents thought of their idealist daughter who was ready to “sing her own kind of song” back in 1969. They wanted to protect me.
I felt the same way 10 years ago when our son took off for California to join the digital goldrush. His response to our concerns to wait--"If I can’t take a risk at 19, when will I be able to afford one? I can always start over if it’s a mistake.” It wasn’t a mistake: he now runs networks around world. In his newspaper commentary, Joe points out the weakness of our well intended desire to postpone our young people’s engagement with life:
That's one of life's biggest problems--a sense of learned helplessness. When you're constantly being told to prepare for life, you slowly begin to think you aren't ready to live it. You need to wait to be taught formally how to do something before you give it a try. But this is at odds with the reality of life.
Does it seem safer to teach them to lip sync our own song? Do we immobilize our children and our students by warning them to wait until they have sufficient information and preparation before they take on “real” life? There is too much information today, and it changes too quickly, for them to master it all. The goal line keeps moving, even as they attempt to get to the starting line.
We want them to have everything, so with good intentions we encourage them to prepare for every possibility, but eventually, they have to choose and too often they find they are prepared for nothing in particular. In over-emphasizing the risk, do we strip them of the courage to take chances? Do we promote postponement until they lack the momentum and motivation to make their own way in the world? Is this a causal agent in “crowded nest syndrome”? Is our culture unwittingly missing this moment of teachability that prepares teens for adult decision making?
Joe asks, “Why don’t we treat life more like a song?” Good question, Joe. Maybe there’s a lot to be said for “Sing like nobody’s listening!” As a teacher you make me pause to wonder--Have we become so enamored with perfect performances that we’ve robbed our children of the experience of making their own music and singing their own song? Have we become so involved in getting to the end of the song that we forget to help them appreciate why singing matters in the first place?
The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.