Is Everything Awesome?

by ChristinaPilkington on July 10, 2014 · 5 comments

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Everything is Awesome!

If your kids are like mine, you’ve heard this phrase sung in your house no less than 50 times in the last month. With a son who owns no less than 60-70 Lego sets, I guess it was inevitable The Lego Movie would become a favorite at our house.

Not that it’s not a cute movie. It is. And, I’ll admit, the theme song has a pretty catchy tune as well.

But….. Have you really ever listened to some of the lyrics?

Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever

( And my personal favorite) Everything you see, or think or say is awesome

You know that moment when you go from brainlessly singing the lyrics of a song to actually thinking about them? Yeah. That happened with me a few weeks ago.

As I started to listen to the lyrics the kids were singing, I started to feel uncomfortable. At first I thought that was silly. It’s just a cute kids song, right? Why should it make me feel like something’s wrong?

It gradually came to me, linking together with something else that has been bothering me the past few months.

See, I believe in the core philosophies of unschooling- which is to say that I believe that if learning is not connected to a child’s life in a meaningful and purposeful way than that learning is not ever going to be deep, lasting, or have any impact on their lives.

And I wholeheartedly still believe in that.

But some assumptions, discussions and writings I’ve read or heard discussed regarding unschooling have been bothering me. Specifically the two ideas that everything a child does or enjoys carries the same level of learning weight, and that time spent say watching favorite TV shows is just as impactful or valuable as say learning how to write better.

I just can’t buy those ideas anymore.

I will not argue that you cannot learn valuable things on TV, even “fun” TV shows like Lego Chima or My Little Pony. I still believe that. But I don’t believe now that all things are equal.

If everything is “awesome,” just what does awesome mean anymore? If every kid is handed out a #1 trophy at their gymnastics showcase (something that happened to my kids this past winter), what value is placed on excellence and working hard?

In the end, I don’t think kids are fooled by that. When my son first saw his #1 trophy he was so excited- and then his face dropped when he looked over at the kids next to him and saw they all had #1 trophies instead.

“Why did they say I was a first place winner,” he asked me “when that wasn’t true, Mom?”

I’m all for rewarding kids for putting in hard work and effort. That alone deserves recognition. But why couldn’t those trophies simply have been blank? Why do so many adults seem to think kids need labels like #1, winner, or amazing on everything they do?

Also, is it just as valuable to spend 20 hours watching your favorite TV show or playing games on lego.com as it is to learn how to write better or read better or get better at learning how to create and follow a budget? Is is just as “awesome” to say you watched 3 seasons in a row of a TV series as it is to say you created your own video that you posted on YouTube?

These are questions I’ve been deeply considering lately. I’m not coming to you today with answers, but rather with bits and pieces of ideas to question, too.

 Before moving on a few disclaimers:

 I’m not saying that I disapprove of watching TV or playing video games. If you’ve read my posts long enough, especially my monthly learning wrap-ups, you can see that my kids spent a fair share of their time doing those things. And I agree that there are valuable lessons to learn through those medium, too.

And, before it’s brought up, I also think there are special circumstance where it’s valuable for people to spend long periods of time in more passive forms of activities. Sometimes it’s necessary for emotional reasons.

Now back to our discussion :)

What I’m struggling with lately is the imbalance of time spent in activities that have our kids consuming rather than producing.

And not just producing any old thing either. I’m talking about producing something of great value. But how is that something of value determined? Is it the same for everyone? I’m coming to believe that it’s not.

I think there are some universal similarities. For example, I think if you are providing something that enriches the lives of others there’s usually great value in that.

But isn’t someone who plays golf 20 hours a week because he is a professional golfer going to gain more value in producing a perfect swing than is spending 20 hours a week perfecting the perfect cake batter when he doesn’t  really like to bake?

Isn’t a child who wants to become an author going to gain more value from spending 30 hours a month working on writing a novel instead of spending 30 hours conducting chemistry experiments they have no interest in?

What you spend time producing is highly individualist. What you produce and create is going to be unique to you. To require people, especially children, to create or produce the same output as other children diminishes their uniqueness.

Yes, I do believe there is a certain set of skills most every child will need to be a successful adult regardless of what they choose to specialize in or contribute to the world, but the way they learn those things, how they do those things, and the time and place they do those things are also highly individualistic.

So back to my discomfort in a child who watches TV for 20 hours instead of producing or creating something of value – and value as defined as something that is unique and meaningful to that child- something that showcases their unique set of interests, talents and abilities.

What becomes of a person who spends far more time consuming than producing? When they come to the end of their lives, who will be more content, someone who has consumed many things, or someone who has contributed much to the world?

One of the lyrics in The Lego Movie is : Everything is awesome when we’re living our dream.

 Is that always true?

I don’t think so. I think there is often times of great discouragement when we’re living our dreams. We want to give up because it’s hard to create something of excellence. It’s not always a fun and easy path to follow.

It’s a great disservice to tell our kids that everything will be awesome when they follow their dreams because when things get hard and it’s no longer fun, they will start to question whether dreams are even worth following.

The video games, endless texting and social media will look really good when they have to learn how to grow and strengthen their creativity muscles.

 These are a few ideas and questions I’ve been wrestling with lately. How do you feel about these ideas?

 

Photo Credit from Flicker by  Bill Toenjes 

 

 

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  • Serena

    I’m wondering if these ideas you’ve been wrestling with has changed how you deal with screentime, if at all. We limit screentime, but I’m looking to opening it up in a thoughtful way.

  • Katie Kearns

    1. I thought the point of the song was basically indoctrinating people into this weird lego society where they just do what they’re told.

    2. The song even says allergies are awesome. And sticks. This does not sound serious. ;)

    3. I don’t know about “everything having the same level of learning weight” — I think of it more as you never know, in the future, what weird thing will have the MOST weight, or more weight. The weirdest things influenced me that no one could have predicted at all… so the idea of trying to plan out learning moments is flawed. Maybe the most important thing of all will be a coincidence, a mistake. The point is to let all sorts of things happen, because you never know which one will be important.

    4. Why does everything have to be learning? What about fun? What about relaxing? I think, in the US, too many people don’t know how to have fun or relax. Everything has to be work or school. And, oddly enough, people are all stressed out and miserable. One reason I homeschool is for the kdis to not have to rush from thing to thing and stay up late doing homework and crying.

    5. What if a kid was reading for 20 hours? That’s still not producing, but consuming.

    6. What if a kid was building an amazing village in minecraft for 20 hours, instead of reading? That’s producing, not consuming.
    :D

    • christinapilkington

      Katie, thanks so much for leaving these comments :)

      Of course I realize that this is supposed to be a cute, fun song in a cute, fun kids’ movie. And I realize that it’s not to be taken seriously. And I’d hope they weren’t being serious when they said allergies were fun because from a lot of personal experience I can definitely say they are not fun at all!!!!! BUT, on the other hand, I do think to a certain extent, the song reflects a lot of ideas that are pervasive in our culture without us ever really paying any attention to them. And the lines of the song were the perfect springboard for thoughts that had been running around my brain for a while now and gave me the perfect chance to discuss on this blog.

      I hear what you’re saying about learning weight and agree that you never know what pieces of what you’re learning now that seem unimportant will be important in the future. I’ve seen that time and time again in my kids’ lives. That’s why it’s important to me to introduce them to a wide variety of subjects and experience, certainly a much more vast and extensive set of experience than they would experience in any type of school system. I see the problem happening when you don’t let “all sorts of things happen,” when only a small set of learning is happening, when kids are not either mastering skill sets or knowledge bases that will help them accomplish their own self-selected goals or being introduced to new ideas and knowledge.

      And I believe that even while you are having fun or relaxing you are still learning. I can’t separate different times of the day or what I’m doing into learning and non learning activities. I also homeschool so my kids won’t have homework, can play for hours on end, and get to travel and explore the wider world around them. They are learning equally when they are pretend playing as when they are reading or looking at a new exhibit. It’s completely fine to do things passively. We have regular shows that we watch every week that really won’t help us to get closer to accomplishing any long term goals besides enjoyment. And that’s fine. And healthy. But I don’t think it would be healthy or fulfilling in the long run to do this for 30-40 hours a week.

      Of course reading for 20 hours is consuming and not producing. And some consuming is good for a certain amount of relaxing learning. I agree. But it could also be an aspect of consuming if it was connected to something you were producing, say if you were reading for research that went into creating a proposal, or if you were studying novels closely to help you create your own novel. This could also be said for TV as well or playing video games.

      And it’s absolutely correct that you are producing when you create villages on mine craft for 20 hours. There can be great value in doing this activity for a long period of time, especially if it’s connected to a larger goal. But there’s also danger in spending 20 hours a week in this activity if a child is using this to avoid working on a more important goal because they are scared of failure or success or something else is holding them back from going after what they want. Like I said in the post, what could be healthy and profitable for one person could be wasting time or avoiding living up to their potential for another person. It’s a highly individualistic thing.

      I’m actually going to be talking about a lot of the issues I addressed above along with other issues in my upcoming post this week or next week. I’d really love for you to comment on that post, too! I really enjoy having these dialogues :)

  • http://creatingtreasures.blogspot.com tereza crump

    I wasn’t able to finish the article but what I read I liked. :) I got a 6 y.o. begging me for the computer right now. I will come back later and finish reading, but I have to agree with you on the first part of the article. Like you, while I agree there is value to games and computer, it bugs me when my kids are just consuming and not producing much. Right now they are in this frenzy of watching YouTube videos on Minecraft. In the beginning, it was a learning activity. right now it’s just an addiction. I love to watch mixed media videos on Youtube, but at some point I have to make myself stop watching and actually try my hand at it. What value is there just to watch and wish to be able to do something like it but never try? I have had to actually limit their time on the computer because of that. They got a limit to do anything Minecraft related. They got to try new horizons… we should be buying the game at the end of the month and then they will be able to creatively produce some worlds and creations to show for their time invested. :) PS I am glad you’re back writing and sharing. :)

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much for leaving this comment Tereza! And I’m really glad to be back, too. I missed sharing my thought and having these conversations. And I hope to get back into the swing of catching up on my favorite blogs, too :) Your example about Minecraft is exactly what I was talking about. In fact, in my next post, I’m going to be discussing this very issue. I have a similar issue with reading books about writing and listening to podcasts about writing. It’s so easy for me to devote hours and hours to these types of activities because they don’t require any creativity on my part. It’s easy to do those activities. Creativity can be difficult. Doing the actual writing is much tougher. I know my tendency to procrastinate on doing things that I actually really want to do. And my kids happen to take after me. They say they want to so something, are really excited about doing it, but then put it off because it’s difficult to do. But then they wind up disappointed because they never wind up doing it. Actually, you just gave me an idea about doing a blog post about this topic, too!

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