In my mind there are three types of education. Compulsory Education, Interest-Led Education, and Purpose-Driven Education. I know they all sound similar, but they are actually very different in both method and results, so hear me out, folks!
Compulsory Education is learning by force. It doesn’t matter if your children are in public school, charter school, private school, or home schooled. Compelling a child to learn in any environment is just that–compulsory education. The only thing that changes across these environments is who is funding the forcing and who is carrying out the forcing. It is a method and a mindset, not just a building in your neighborhood.
Compulsory Education is all we have known for the last 100 years and for this reason, it is incredibly difficult to imagine doing things any other way. Even if the results of this method aren’t particularly wonderful, they are at least known. They are so familiar to us that any other method is labeled as “alternative” education.
Most of the time alternatives are a good thing, but they can also be a little scary. Am I right? It is usually much easier to stick with what we know, even if we are uncomfortable. We might not like the long hours, the homework, the curriculum, the heavy focus on competition, rewards, and punishments etc. But we put up with all those things because *shrug* that’s what everyone does. That’s just the way things are.
Doing something different takes guts. It takes faith. It takes courage.
So what are these alternatives? And are they really that scary? or are they actually easy, fulfilling, joyful, and exciting?
Interest-Led Education is when we allow a child’s interests to guide the content, pace, and methods of their learning. For example, if a child really loves learning about the Moon, we would use this interest to develop important skills (e.g., reading, math, science etc). Their natural interests drive their natural progression so you don’t have to introduce any agent of compulsion (reward, punishment, legislation etc). As we allow a child to explore the things that interest them, they will discover who they are, what they love and what they are good at. And they will do it with joy and excitement. Learning will not be a chore, but will become a source of great happiness.
Interest-Led Learning is actually all the rage right now. Parents all over the country are pulling their kids out of compulsory education systems (or changing their home schooling methods) and allowing their children to follow their interests. This is such a wonderful step in the right direction! I just hope they don’t stop there! Interests and talents are clues to something deeper. I’ll give you a hint. It’s purpose.
Purpose-Driven Education is helping a child discover their real purpose in life. Parents, educators, and community members help students see how they can build their interests into valuable skill sets and knowledge that can be applied with a heart of service. No third party is forcing the student to acquire knowledge. The student does not need rewards or punishments to progress.
The results of Purpose-Driven Education are students who understand that they have been sent here by a loving Creator to serve their fellow men with the talents and opportunities that He has granted them.
When a student finds their purpose, they are intrinsically motivated to do and learn everything required to achieve that purpose. For example, a student may build his or her interest in physiology into the purpose of curing a certain disease. With this purpose in their heart, they would become intrinsically motivated to learn everything required to become useful in that effort. This might include learning biology, anatomy, chemistry, developing empathy and compassion, and building the people skills required to work with teams of other specialists and to care for patients. And in 30 years, when a sweet little baby develops that disease but survives, people will say things like, “You know, people used to die from this a long time ago.” And we will know why people no longer do.
Now that sounds super neat and all but most children won’t be born knowing what their purpose is. More than likely it will take some exploring to find that true purpose. So how do we help them explore? Well, there are a few different answers to this.
1. SET THE EXAMPLE. Find your own purpose in life and live into it. They will see the joy and light this brings you and they will want the same joy for themselves. If you dream big, they will too.
2. HELP THEM SERVE. Provide students with meaningful service opportunities when they are young. Developing a heart for others is key in growing a student’s desire to live a purposeful life.
3. LET THEM BE LITTLE. Let them play. For hours and hours and hours and for years. Then pay attention to their play. What do they pretend? Are they fixing and building? Playing house? Operating on their sick stuffed animals? These are clues!
4. FOLLOW THEIR INTERESTS. Allow them an Interest-Led learning environment while they are figuring out their purpose. What do they have questions about? Let them dive deep into these subjects as they master basic skills.
5. DRAW THEIR MINDS TO THE FUTURE. It’s never too young to start talking about purpose. Help them imagine themselves serving others and solving real problems.
A child will naturally progress from playing doctor to asking questions about how our brains work. This interest may someday develop into a desire to master the field of neuroscience and bless the lives of others in countless ways.
Speaking of little guys and neuroscience… check out this video of me and my little boy demonstrating how we use interest-led learning to help him learn basic skills like (you guessed it) READING!
Please note that I did compel my son to make this video (I gave him a popsicle) but this is an activity that he asks me to do several times a day. There is no reward and he can quit any time he likes. He is half motivated by getting the answer to his question and half motivated by getting to use the Ipad. I’ll take it. Baby steps to Purpose.