Are You Doing An Injustice to Children By Catering to What They Want to Learn All the Time?

by ChristinaPilkington on July 9, 2011 · 7 comments

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I was asked this question just a few weeks ago. The person who asked this followed up by saying that the real world doesn’t do that; that you do what they want you to do when they want you to do it.

On the surface, many people would probably agree with the statement my friend made. Don’t we all have to do things we don’t want to do?  If you go to a job, or wait in line in a government building, or drive your car down the street, don’t you have to do what your employer government employee or policeman wants you to do without question?

But I’d ask you to think closely about that statement for a minute. Is your life really about doing what other people tell you to do when they tell you to do it? If you feel that way, why are you living that way? Do you really believe you have no other choice, that you are a slave to other people in your life?

If that is the case, I’d like to encourage you to entertain a new idea for a minute, to look at your life in a way that you might never have considered before. If you are working somewhere, and your boss is asking you to do something you don’t want to do, why are you doing it?  Maybe you fear losing your job if you refuse.  Maybe you think he’s the authority figure and you’ve been taught all your life never to question authority, even though you might have a better solution or believe she’s wrong.

But you do have a choice, especially if you live in the United States or a country that has roots in democracy. If you really despise your job, you can leave. I’m not saying it will be easy, but if you do stay, you need to know you are CHOOSING to stay.  You could sell your house, or move into a smaller apartment, or eat simply and not go out for a while until you find a situation that brings you fulfillment and purpose in your life.  Or you could decide that rearranging your current situation to pursue a life full of meaningful work (to you) isn’t worth the effort it will take, so you choose to accept what others are telling you to do instead.

If you believe there’s a better way to do something and you choose not to speak up, you are CHOOSING to accept the way others do things; you’re choosing your comfort over the discomfort of confronting someone or speaking out for what you believe.

Most kids don’t have that choice. They either attend school or homeschool with a parent who plans out everything they must learn whether it directly relates to their interests or will make a significant impact on their adult lives or not.  Most kids have to sit in a building for 6-7 hours a day doing mostly busywork, or being pushed ahead or pulled behind from where they want and need to be. They could choose to just sit there and refuse to do the work, but usually face severe consequences for their choice.

I don’t do anything in my life that I don’t want to do. But, you’re probably saying, you’re telling me you LIKE doing laundry, and the dishes and breaking up fights? Well, no. But I l really like wearing clean clothes and eating off clean dishes, and I love knowing my kids feel safe and are learning how to solve their own problems. So sometimes what we do in the moment may not something we enjoy doing, but we know it will bring us closer to a goal we WANT to accomplish; we can see how our present task directly relates to accomplishes our bigger dream.

But isn’t that what kids need to learn too? Don’t they need to learn math or science or geography because it will help them accomplish bigger goals later on? Don’t they need to learn to do unpleasant things in the moment to receive greater rewards later on? Ok. That’s a fair question. But I have to answer those questions with a series of my own questions.

If you’re working on a task that’s unpleasant, but you know that by doing the task it will directly lead to something bigger, like getting more clients, completing a new website, or providing a safer environment for those around you, than you can see its relevance, you can understand that if you don’t do it, you goal cannot be realized.

But what if there was a way to avoid that task and still accomplish your dream? Why would you do that unpleasant task? If I want clean clothes, they need to get cleaned. My two options are to clean them myself, or get someone else to do it for me. I choose to clean them myself because I’d rather spend my money on things that matter more to me.  Someone else might choose to pay another person to do their laundry for them because it means more to them.

If what you’re doing doesn’t directly impact your greater goal, you are probably wasting your time. If you work for yourself, you can eliminate all those unnecessary, “busywork” things. If you work for someone else, you need to consider what its worth to you.  You can approach your boss with a more efficient way to do things, or you can continue doing the busywork because overall you enjoy what you do and don’t want to leave, even though some of your time is being wasted.  Or you could look for a job that respects your talents and opinions and focuses on creativity and innovation instead of filling out papers and putting in the hours.

Why should children sit for 45 minutes a day for 12 years in a math class when the math skills most people need in their daily lives to do things that matter to them can be learn in a matter of six months? What is the point of doing math worksheets and drills? How is that helping a  child solve a problem that means something to them, or help them accomplish a personal goal?  If we really want children to have those math skills, why aren’t we presenting them with interesting projects, games and activities that they’d want to do or accomplish (at the same time respecting their choice to turn down those options if they so choose)? Why aren’t we letting them see people using math in their everyday lives?

Why are we making children read works by Jane Austen, William Shakespeare or Ernest Hemingway (which for the record, I personally find fascinating), when their real interests are in real life survival stories, or biographies of athletes, or horses? How is forcing them to read what we want them to read going to make them better readers, or encourage them to love reading?

How is forcing a child to take music lessons, play on a sports team, or attend an art class going to enrich their lives as adults? Are they not going to run away from music, sports or art the minute they are allowed to have choices of their own?

So, to go back to the original question that started this post: Am I doing an injustice to my children by catering to their interests all the time?

Here’s the real injustice:

Treating children as if they have no minds, goals or desires of their own

Making them spend years of their lives doing busywork that will never directly relate to what they will do as adults

Not taking advantage of young children’s curiosity, imagination, inquisitiveness and energy

Keeping kids locked up in one building all day when there’s a big world out there for them to explore

And not allowing them to develop their gifts and talents to their full potential

In other words, no, I’m not doing them an injustice. I’m justly giving them what they deserve and need.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail at  If you’d like to receive free e-mail updates, just fill out your name and e-mail in the box at the upper right hand corner of this page.

Photo Credit: AZRainman

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  • Anonymous

    Niki, I’ve noticed that after I tell someone we’ve chosen not to send our children to school, many people feel the need to defend their choice to send their children to school. I never feel the need to justify my decision. I just wish more people would consider that maybe the reason why their children have “learning disabilities” or seem withdrawn from the family or are generally unhappy is because they ARE in institutionalized schooling.

    • Niki

      I agree, Christina. Many children DO NOT flourish in the system. Schools can not cater to the individual and, to me, that is one of the biggest issues: inflexibility.

      I’ve encountered many people that can’t believe that homeschooling (let alone unschooling, so I don’t even mention that) could be legal. Imagine! Leaving the education of a child in the hands of their parents and themselves?! lol Many people feel more of a sense of comfort leaving the education of a person in the hands of a government and don’t like the idea of a person not following the supposed straight line of education a school seems to provide.

      I do try to explain to people that learning is not something you can force onto a person – but rather a decision within said person. You can inundate a person with facts, but if it means nothing to them and their life it is useless. However, many people seem offended by this concept – choosing to believe that a child (or adult) won’t learn without fear, or at least pressure from an external source. I have seen firsthand that this is false. It is amazing what a person can (and will) learn purely for the joy of it. :)

      • Anonymous

        I have a Master’s in Education and, believe me, it did absolutely nothing to prepare me to help individual children. I learned how to “control” a classroom, but as for helping unique children love learning and be origional, nada!

  • Jessica

    Christina, you might have seen that I reposted this on my facebook page. Over the course of the past 18 months I have moved in the direction of unschooling. I have been asked the questions you discussed and in my heart I know I am doing the write thing but I have not always known how to answer the questions. Thank you for writing this post. I hope that my friends and family who have not always understood why I made this choice, read it too.

    • Anonymous

      Jessica, thanks! I feel really honored you’d do that. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and getting to know your family. Yes, sometimes it can be pretty lonely when you choose to leave school behind and let children learn naturally. I’ve been blessed to live near a few other unschooling friends. Just stay strong and follow your children’s lead.

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    Great post. I agree and agree and AGREE! This always makes me think and maybe change a few things we do as I homeschool my 11 year old daughter.

    • Anonymous

      Karen, thanks! Most people have a school mindset instead of an education mindset. They forget that up until 150 years ago most people received an education from little formal learning and were instead self-educated throught reading, discovery and travel.

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