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Our short time in Fiji has given me a chance to reflect on education, of all things.
I’ve had the unique opportunity to observe my children in an environment very different from our home. In particular I’ve seen my 12-year-old son, in just three days, befriend many of the staff members and other guests at our hotels. He has a knack for connecting with people and he’s at the age when he wants to put more distance between himself and his parents. He’s always been adventurous and sure of himself (even when he shouldn’t be). His ability to handle himself in unfamiliar situations lately has impressed me.
In Fiji drinking kava is a time-honored tradition. The ground root of the yaqona bush is strained with water; drinking the resulting liquid has a mild numbing effect. It’s made in a tanoa, a large hard wood bowl, and drunk communally. The smaller bowls from which you drink are made from coconut shells, plentiful in this tropical paradise. Clap once before accepting the bowl, three times before handing it back empty. It’s customary to accept the first bowl though you’re not expected to drink more.
To my taste buds kava is thoroughly unappetizing and it looks like dirty laundry water. Each night at the resort Fijians set out a large straw mat and sat around the tanoa, partaking of kava, singing and telling stories. It’s a daily event in Fiji. Anyone is free to join in. My son, social butterfly that he is, was eager to sit with his new friends and try the kava. I wasn’t certain I should let him. I had no idea the effect it would have on him. I knew he would debate me all night long so I let him take his place on the mat.
He admitted to me the next day that he didn’t care for the taste, but he really enjoyed the company. The next night when he wanted to do it again I thought I’d better put my foot down. I never expected he’d want to. I reminded him that he said he didn’t even like it. He responded, “I know I said I don’t like the way it tastes. No one does. I just like being a part of what everyone is doing.”
My first thought was, “Well I don’t care. I don’t think you should drink it.” I still didn’t know exactly what it was. Then I thought more about what he’d said and realized something important. He wasn’t taking pleasure in the drink itself. He’d found a community, a group he wanted to be a part of. They had welcomed him and he accepted the invitation. I let him go. In the end he didn’t stay long or drink much. He had the confidence to enter a circle of strangers and carry on a conversation. I was proud of the way he’d handled himself. He’s learning so much about the world and about himself. I am too.
Getting back to education.
I couldn’t help but wonder, can we value such an experience as educational the same way we do reading, writing and arithmetic? Or, perhaps a better question, can we value the child who learns by doing more than she learns by sitting in a classroom with her nose in a book? Of course we would say we do, but our schools are not designed to promote or encourage experiential education.
Patience, confidence, self-control. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t desire to see these traits in their children. But children are not learning to be any of these things because we tell them to, or because they learn about them in a club at school.
They learn patience when they have to wait.
The learn confidence when they are successful at trying new things.
They learn self-control when they need to behave in front of strangers.
We clearly value the outcomes of experiential education. Can we also value the process?
No matter where our kids are educated I simply advocate that we as adults accept without judgment that every child has gifts, talents, and the ability to be successful, wonderful human beings. Our job is to love, guide, direct and discipline them as who they are, and not who we wish them to be.