Self-Directed Life: Drones today, creative leaders tomorrow
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Hey guys,

How was your week?

Here’s a weird dichotomy for you. We’ve taken over childhood and made it all about the future — what job our kids will be able to get (and by extension how much money they’ll be able to earn) some 15 to 20 years hence. We devalue childhood — it’s just a holding cell for adulthood. AND YET even as we take away unstructured play, free choice, exploration, etc., we don’t emulate that working environment that we dream of for our kids.

We don’t try to help them actually prepare to be those makers and producers we dream they’ll be.

We want them to be creative. We want them to be leaders. And in order to do that … somehow … today we make them drones who must follow orders for rewards.

Weird, right?

I hate the fact that childhood isn’t respected as a time in life that is every bit as important as adulthood. Children are just proto-adults. Who cares if kids don’t get to play with their friends at school or talk at lunchtime or relax in the evenings with their families? They have no rights. They can’t unionize and demand a healthy, active childhood with low stress and close relationships. We’re in charge and we’ve decided what’s most important — our future workforce.

We make decisions all the time that damage children — we take away their recess and their green spaces, we denigrate their interests, we give them no input into what they’ll learn and how they’ll learn about it. We absolutely know what is good for children and we don’t do it. We absolutely know what helps children be great learners and we don’t do it! Crazy.

I hate the fact that education is now just a chute that directs you toward a paycheck. Learning isn’t pursued because it’s soul-satisfying, because it helps you do things that matter, because it lets you contribute to a better world. Nope — learning is for MONEY, baby. Get into the best preschool so you can get into the best school so you can get into the best university so you can get into the best job and make the most money. Then you can settle in and earn that stuff you buy that you never have any time to use because you’re always at work.


But hey, I am perfectly fine drawing a line from the child of today to the adult of tomorrow. Let’s do that. Let’s look at our ultimate goals for our child as an adult and see if we’re planting the seeds for that today. Fair enough.

If we want adults who are great leaders, shouldn’t we let children lead?

When exactly do we transfer responsibility for leadership to them? At what point do we say, well, enough of what I’ve been telling you to do — take over! And how prepared are they at that point to do so?

If we want adults who are lifelong learners (how many of those do YOU know?) shouldn’t we make sure children love learning? Shouldn’t we make sure they understand its usefulness? Can we do that without connecting learning to something THEY want to accomplish?

Do we envision that “lifelong learner” means an adult who wants to repeat the experience of high school forever? Hmm. Probably NOT. We probably envision a “lifelong learner” as a self-directed learner — someone who is always interested in the world, who likes acquiring new skills and tackling new challenges, someone who is unafraid to be a fumbling beginner and gets deep enjoyment out of mastery.

If we want adults who are self-directed learners, when exactly should we start letting them direct and manage their own learning?

Should we wait until they graduate from college?

If we want adults who make good decisions, when should we allow children to start making their own decisions — and learning from their mistakes?

If we want adults who can balance technology with a healthy life, when should we allow children to experience that balance?

If we want adults who are great problem-solvers, when should we let kids have some problems? And then give them room and time to solve them?

It seems to me that we want an entirely different kind of learner as an adult than we want in school.

Shouldn’t learners be doing today exactly what we hope they’ll be doing later?

Isn’t that what “practice” means?

How exactly do we convert a follow-directions drone to a creative leader with great critical thinking skills?

And which of those does school reward again?

The psychologists Erik Westby and V.L. Dawson found that teachers claimed to enjoy working with creative children, yet the most non-conforming children are the least likely to be the teacher’s pets.

They raised two possibilities for how original kids will respond. One is that ‘teachers’ unwelcoming attitudes may alienate children from formal education.’ The other is that ‘teachers’ dislike of behaviors associated with creativity leads to the extinction of those behaviors.’ Either outcome is highly undesirable. — Educating an original thinker


Teachers award kids who conform, not creative kids.

So what kind of students are we going to get?

We keep making this mistake — saying we value something and then making choices that don’t support that thing.

If childhood is an investment in adulthood, shouldn’t we be investing in the things we want instead of the opposite?

We limit kids’ screen time so that they use it ONLY for leisure when they could be using it to learn, collaborate, and share.

When will they learn to use technology to do those things?

We provide kids with activities because otherwise how will they figure out what’s possible?

When will they learn to research and find their own resources and activities?

At every turn, we cut kids off and get between them and actual learning and doing.

Instead of childhood being a time of play, exploration, and making, it has been turned for most into a time of sitting still all day doing dull, irrelevant tasks in order to get meaningless rewards from people whose job it is to criticize and judge them.

Instead of acquiring learning skills doing things they really care about (as a six-year-old, as a ten-year-old, as a fifteen-year-old) they’re tasked with building skills in isolation and learning things that may not interest them at all.

The things they care about are judged unworthy. Kids care about things that adults think are stupid. Why should we invest in you reading, writing, computing, communicating, problem-solving, making, building, designing, and on and on and on, if it’s about something we think is DUMB?

Kids are told what to do, how to do it, and they’re graded on how carefully they followed directions. They’re praised for conforming, for being quiet, for obeying without question, and for meeting — not exceeding — expectations.

This is a recipe for something. Is it a recipe for creating adults who love to learn, are great critical thinkers, are capable of making their ideas happen? Is it a recipe for creating innovators? Leaders? Self-sufficient, self-confident adults who know what they like and think and what they want to accomplish in the world?

Are our children, right now, the learners that we hope they will be in 10 and 20 years?

Are our children, right now, doing the type of work we hope they’ll be doing in 10 and 20 years?

Do our children have good lives today? And are they practicing being the people we hope they always will be?

If not, we’d better change the recipe.

Students learn what they do.

It took me a long time to learn this premise.

If you go into a classroom and look across the room at what all the students are doing, what do you see? Maybe you see the students sitting at their desks or tables, copying notes from the chalkboard — notes the teacher expects them to learn by heart and reproduce in a test at the end of the unit.

What they are learning here is what you see them doing: writing notes, coping with the boredom without complaining, and later memorizing headings and details they only partially understand.

Given the students forget most of the content of their notes after the rote memorization and test, what they do in the classroom day after day is what they learn and become expert in. — Graham Nuthall, The Hidden Lives of Learners

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that 40% of jobs will be freelance within four years — here’s another interesting prediction:

47 to 81% of jobs as we understand them could be under threat from technology within 20 years.The real reason this elephant chart is terrifying

Scary? Not if you have skills a computer doesn’t — primarily critical-thinking skills.

Four of 10 young people in high school will end up freelancing, another four will manage projects inside organizations — either way it’s a project-based world. — Developing minds ready for the innovation economy

Who better to thrive in a project-based world than a project-based learner?


Great picture of the ubiquitous (owned by many PBHers) Ikea Raskog cart in an artist’s studio.


Instagram peek into a young PBH teen’s learning: Arthur Conan Doyle and the Avengers.


Instagram peek into a common PBH interest: Fire!


When the kids just want to play, you get to work on your own project.


Great online + free learning resources I ran across this week:

Stanford Professor Puts his Entire Digital Photography Course Online for Free

Chip Kidd’s Skillshare design classes

(We’re big fans of Chip Kidd’s book Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design.)


This week on the blog: Are you brave enough to be curious?

Thank you as always for your continued support. If there’s anything you need, just hit reply on this email and let me know!

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