Finding the Why

One of the principles of a wholistic education is PURPOSE. Or in other words, finding “the why” behind what we are learning. How many times in high school pre-calc did you ask your teacher, “Why do I have to know this?”

Or maybe you loved math and instead you asked this same question about diagramming sentences in English class.

You see, we all have different interests and talents. These interests and talents are given to us to steer us to our “capital P” Purpose in life. So the answer to “Why do I have to know this” for one person might be: “Because someday you are going to design a low-cost water pump that will bring clean water to every village in India and you need to understand this math principle so you will have the knowledge and skill to develop it.” OR, to someone else, the answer to the same question is, “You aren’t actually going to use this knowledge ever.”

Personally, I took two weeks of high school pre-calc and then dropped out to take guitar. Did I become a world renown guitarist and song writer, bringing beauty and light to the world through my music? No.

But I can say that I have never once needed any higher level math in my adult life, and I am a perfectly competent contributing member of society who is living a purpose filled life.

However, I DO use a computer and live in a house that required someone else to understand higher level math. So I am VERY grateful that there are people who understand numerical principles beyond my own comprehension. (Thanks math guys and gals!) Although I do wonder if any of these folks could understand and apply these fancy pants math principles if they couldn’t READ (enter: me on a gallant white horse). We are all different and that is what makes our world 1.possible and 2.wonderful.

So can we stop trying to make everybody proficient at everything and instead, let people excel at what they were built for, already?

But how do we figure out what we were built for? Even though most kids won’t have a realistic vision of their Purpose until they are a little older, it is never too early to start talking about “the why” of things with our children.

In my mind, there are a few levels of purpose. Some purposes are immediate and useful, while some won’t be realized until later in life.

Usefulness is the first level of purpose. Pointing out the practicality of learning is easy to do and makes a world of difference to the young learner. There is nothing that a young child wants more than to be considered “big.” If we simply point out how all the things we are trying to teach our children are to help them grow up, we might meet with less hostility and more excitement.

So how do we do this?

In our home, instead of just telling the kids that we are going to get pizza, we talk about how amazing it is that Dad and I can drive to the pizza store (pass a written test to get a license and read street signs and maps) and then figure out what kind of pizza is for sale (read the menu) and then know how many dollars to give them (math!). We say things like, “Shwew! I sure am glad I practiced my reading so that I can read all the different kinds of pizza!”

We play games like, “If you can read it” when we are at the check out stand at the store. This is where player one (parent) says something like you can pick a candy if you can read it. Then player two (child) scans the candy wrappers for something they can read. Even kids with basic reading skills can read “Tic Tac” and “Ring Pop.” If they want the Bubblicious…they’ve got to learn some phonograms. Yes, this is extrinsic motivation, so we don’t do this very often but if you are going to use extrinsic motivators, make them the natural benefits of knowing how to read.

Last week, my little boy learned some new two letter phonograms and the magic E rule. This made it so he could actually read quite a bit more. We drove up to a store and he immediately said “Mom, they’re open.” I said, “How do you know?” He said, “That sign says OPEN.” Then we walked up to the door and he said, “Mom, you should pull the door.” I said, How do you know?” … you get the idea. On the way home he said, “You know mom, you were right…I guess reading really does make my life more awesome.”

Yes, reading can make your life awesome. That’s the practical side of purpose.

The height of purpose is when a child understands how they can use their talents, skills, and knowledge to serve others in meaningful ways. Are they going to relieve suffering by becoming a doctor or humanitarian? Will they be an inventor who solves the world’s problems through innovation and science? Or will they inspire others to seek truth and beauty through music or art? The possibilities are endless…

No matter what a child’s Purpose is, getting them thinking about it when they are young is vital. I’m not just talking about asking a child what they want to do for a job when they grow up (which is actually what we are asking them when we say “what do you want to BE when you grow up?”) I’m talking about helping them think about who they want to help. What problems in the world make them mad? What inventions are they cooking up in their brains? What do they love doing so much that they loose track of time?

Or even more importantly, what kind of a person are they going to be?

An honest one?

A joyful one?

A hard working one?

From practical use to life’s big purpose, literacy is the way. I have no idea how my little friends are going influence the world over the next 30 or 40 years. But even our little 3 year old knows that when he is big like daddy, and has his own kids, he is going to read them all his favorite stories. For now, that purpose gives him enough motivation to ask adorable questions about letters…and that is enough.

Check out this video wherein I say the word “gobledygook,” talk about unicorns,  and also go over how to find the purpose behind the education of your children…

In this video I reference Jim Collins’ classic idea of finding your “personal hedgehog.” No one explains this idea better than Mr.Collins himself…


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