I am not that smart. I’ve long repeated this.
And here in this place where I am a father and a leader and somebody imparting our core philosophy to readers curious about this concept of creative adventuring, it needs to be introduced with clarity:
I’m not that smart.
But: I am curious.
For most of my adult life people have mistaken my sense of curiosity for intelligence. They are often even offended by this in me. They mistake my curiosity for arrogance. But it’s simple:
What I don’t know, I’ll go and (re)search.
What does this mean? For me, for us, for how we live our life: intelligence isn’t the most important and valuable virtue, paying attention is.
This is what I’ve had to learn on my own, outside of any public education or mentorship or friendship. This is the golden nugget that I found on my own. And it means everything: paying attention is more important than intellect.
Now that we’re clear about my intellectual aptitude, let’s ask this:
Am I hypocrite for teaching my kids about standards and concepts that I wasn’t aware of in the past but may have only concretized now, while with them?
Absolutely not. This is the highest aim of the parent in my estimation. This is the sum total of what it means to be a good man and a great parent: the willingness to be humbled by your station in life – both because you can recognize your shortcomings but also because you have the courage to edit your perspective, own any wrongs and move forward with more clarity, all on account of effort and humility. So:
Do I teach my kids everything that I hold my self accountable for as well?
Yes, and no.
Some of my foundational ideas weren’t made completely explicit until I had to teach one of the kids through a moment. Almost certainly I had an impulsive, pat-response. As it was coming out, I would notice what was transpiring and start to immediately question: do I really believe this? Is this true? Is this my idea or something I simply inherited and haven’t thought much about?
After spending some time with an idea, and sometimes it calcified rather quickly, especially when talking it through with the kids, the idea became mine and ours and: a standard. For myself as well as for the children.
Here, I’m not afraid of being wrong. Discovering that you’re wrong about something opens the door to the idea that: there’s other solutions. That’s there’s better options. That one option or idea that you always thought was the only route? It's not. There's a better route through the Rockies! Hooray!
I am afraid of one thing: of being right.
I think about what I tell the kids. I make sure I believe the same thing. I spend time with the teaching. In part, I want to be wrong, or somewhat wrong. I want to have to explore the idea more.
Being right is boring.
More than that, I don’t ever want to be a know-it-all. There’s four things I cannot tolerate in a person: selfishness, entitlement, arrogance and being a cockalorum (which is a know-it-all, something I was forced to find because I was tired of calling somebody around me a clumsy phrase).
These standards have helped me in other arenas of my life: when not around the children, I will often question myself about what the kids would think of my actions, my words, my approach, my resolve, my motivation.
And so, what I don’t know, I go in search of solving it.
What I think I do know, I go in search of validating it, or editing it. Refining it.
And so what am so heatedly in quest of solving? What is the fundamental purpose of all this cause and concern?
Answer: to build a system that will help my kids reveal the best in their self, so that they may overcompensate when they do err and fall down and fall apart. It is my goal to help them maintain their covenant with the foundation of their earned ideology, so that they will triumph when times are darkest, and find success even when times are light.
At the heart of my paradigm is this notion: the public school system and just a singular education paradigm is probably not enough to properly educate children.
How do I know this? Because I experienced it. I studied it.
And now I’m living it.
I will and can teach my children the fundamentals of rote learning like reading and writing and numbers. But I don’t want to spend my days there. I’ll let their school and those teachers, with much more commitment and technique, help the kids grow in that way.
For me, education starts and ends at home. With me.
In my opinion, at best public schools create a factory kind of environment: Sit in rows. Do this now. At the next hour, we switch to this. Jump through this hoop to prove proficiency. And all of the teaching is done with a broad stroke, in big classes. Implicit is the notion that this is the curriculum you need to learn and this how you’re going to do it. This when students have myriad of manners in which they learn and progress, differently.
The phrase “standardized testing” nails this point home.
And that’s all fine. To a point.
What this accomplishes, is: submissive rule-followers. It does not create inspired self-learners. Students under this received model must bring curiosity to the classroom. This is our responsibility: to understand this and give children a more-holistic education.
What is a more-holistic education? One that creates curious, lifetime learners. One that creates meta-cognitive, emotionally-endowed adults.
En summa, I believe that the importance in the home should be more about creating curiosity and creating children that are excited to learn, inspired to research. Schools give the kids these tools, but they also only give them a shallow education. It’s our responsibility to demonstrate how the tools they’re giving in school function in real life and how they can help one create a meaningful, happy life.
The world view that us creative adventurers have created, nay are constantly creating, is fluid. In a lot of ways, it mirrors the notion of “unschooling”.
Unschooling, for me, is a child-lead paradigm wherein the children lead the parent, or the teacher, to moments of discovery and teaching.
Children are not robots. Nor are they like the kid sitting next to them in their classroom, however they appear to be topically and on the surface.
Through my undergraduate and graduate studies in philosophy, epistemology and education I’ve long held the notion that it’s curiosity and exploration and play that should be at the core of our teachings. Not assembly-line modes of cognition.
If you want inspiring kids-turned-adults, you must facilitate inspiration. You must show them how to be inspired.
If you want interesting adults in our society, you must show them how to be interested.
This is what unschooling is for me: it’s exploration. It’s navigating the world in a practical way and showing them how to be inspired, how to research, how to be curious about the world and accrue information and knowledge and then wisdom through experience.
For the most part, at home, the kids lead. This doesn’t mean I’m submissive in where we’re going – not by any means. Here, I am the curator of their great art museum.
So yes, the kids lead. But mostly, life leads us. It’s collaborative.
How it Works in the Wild
The creative collaboration and sense of process happens all the time. Mostly, spontaneously:
One summer day, we walked in to a meadow and my daughter heard a thrumming sound coming high up in the trees.
Dad, what is that?
“That sound?” I respond.
She is silent. Her body says, yes that sound.
It’s the annual summer sound: that thrumming. A kind of drumming coming from the trees.
“Those are Cicadas.”
“What are those?” My three-year-old son asks.
“They’re these big, ugly, giant insects that come out every summer and closer to when dusk comes, they make that huge sound.”
“I want to see sick-ay-duhs,” My son says, phonetically.
I pull out my phone and show them a photo of a Cicada.
“Eww!” They all three shriek.
“Yeah, they’re a little freaky,” I say, wanting to show them their size. “They’re bigger than most bugs…”
Two weeks later we’re walking through the forest. And right at my foot in the bulrush, at the base of a cottonwood: the exoskeleton of a cicada.
I picked it up and asked them if they remembered the giant bug sounds coming from the trees?
This, I show them, is how big they are.
“Eww!” They all three shriek.
And yes, I learn. I learn with each lesson.
I do not just tell them what I think something is and let it go. Typically when we’re back home I’ll look things up to make sure I’m giving them the correct facts. But they’re young, they probably won’t remember everything: in this, I’m actually teaching myself.
One afternoon, we were in a ghost town on the eastern Colorado plains.
We were coming back from examining some abandoned structures and, wading through the turkeyfoot grass, we found something.
“Whoa! It looks like an alien, Dad. Look!”
I took out my camera and snapped a photo.
I didn’t know what it was. It did look like an alien.
When we got in the car, I showed my girlfriend.
“That’s a Preying Mantis,” she casually says.
I had no idea what it was. I think I’ve seen one only once before in a graveyard in Salt Lake City.
I don’t know everything. And I don’t want to.
I want the world to be a place of exploration and play and adventure. I want my children to live in the same place: where things are wondrous every day. Where exploration never ends.
And I want them to live in a place, inside themselves, where they are comfortable coming from a place of unknowing. Of not knowing, because they understand how their world just expanded a little more on account of the fact that there was something new that they didn’t know, but can come to know.
Learning is exploration. And exploration feels good. It also helps us heal.
This is agnosticism: living in a cloud of unknowing and feeling the wonder and power of one’s lack of knowledge. Then, going after it: sometimes in a counterintuitive manner. Sometimes going about the quest of quenching that thirst by… not explicitly doing anything about it, but instead, letting the world unfold in its organic way before you, without forcing any of it.
Buying in to agnosy, for me, is the fuel that ignites the fire of curiosity.