Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Of Course They Will Struggle, That's What Learning Looks Like

The city of Seattle has several nicknames, the most flattering of which is the Emerald City (because it's so green due to all the rain), while the coolest is probably Jet City (Boeing is our biggest employer). But the most descriptive, I think, is Rat City, because, being a port city, we have a lot of rats.

Even as some of you are now cancelling your travel plans, our dog Stella is thrilled by the presence of the rodents. She is forever plunging into shrubbery on the hunt for these creatures. Yesterday, for instance, she nearly yanked my shoulder out of its socket as she caught the scent. She followed it into a newly planted bed of grasses in front of a recently completed Amazon building. As she nosed around feverishly, I caught sight of her prey hightailing it across the sidewalk toward the protective cover of the next patch of greenery. There was never a chance of Stella catching that rat. Indeed, there is never a chance of her ever catching a rat, or a squirrel, or any other wild animal. They're just too smart for her.

Most pets have had their natural instincts blunted by domestication. They've had it easy, what with their regular meal times and four-walled security. Sure, they still show vestiges of their genetic urges to scavenge and hunt, to fly or fight, but without the protection of humans, domesticated animals, such as our herds of cattle, flocks of sheep, and drifts of pigs, not to mention house pets, would be quickly thinned by the processes of natural selection.

Humans are no different than other animals, and while I'm not suggesting we turn our children loose to fend for themselves, we mustn't loose sight of the fact that, like all animals, we learn best when allowed, when possible, to fend of ourselves in the real world. Every time we, in our rush or solicitousness, do something for a child that they could do for themselves, even if it might be faster or tidier to do it for them, we rob them of the chance to learn to take care of themselves. Every time we open their water bottles or help them with their coats or zip their zippers or open their lunch boxes or wipe their bottoms, we teach them a lesson in dependency.

Of course they will struggle, that's what learning looks like.

I imagine that Stella would be more than a match of a domesticated rat that somehow slipped its cage and found itself on the streets of Rat City. Domesticated children are likewise prone to grow into helpless adults, feeling powerless, trapped, resourceless, incapable, and dependent upon others. Indeed, this reads like a list of the symptoms that plague much our contemporary world.

The good news is that most children, most of the time, want to do things for themselves. They know what's good for them. For many of us, it's a challenge to set aside our hurry or perfectionism, but when we do, when we give our children the time and space to struggle with the real world, we allow them to learn about their own power in the world, which is the antidote to helplessness.

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