Monthly Archives: September 2010

Dancing

James has always marched to a different drummer. Actually, he danced to a different music. Even as a child, he would tap dance down the isles of the grocery store, or Wal Mart, or anywhere we were—in public—while his brothers went somewhere else so as not to be perceived as being related to him. He didn’t do this to show off, mind you. He was just a dancer, lost in the world of music and movement.

In his teen years, James came across a quote that became sort of a life-driver for him. He told me one day, “If I will spend a few years doing what no one else will do, I will spend the rest of my life doing what no one else can­­­ do.”

Not long ago I phoned James and got his voice mail. I heard him say…

“Hey, this is James. I’m probably dancing right now, or doing something else amazingly fun, so leave a message…”

When I heard these words, I felt that something had gone terribly right!

When I finally did reach James, I asked him about the voice mail message and he made a comment I will never forget.

“Dad,” he said, “In my whole life I think I’ve known only three people who are actually doing what they love doing instead of what other people think they should be doing.” When he named the three, he included himself.

Think about this: How would you like your children to grow up and be able to tell you they are doing exactly what they should be doing? What else could they say that would make you more proud of them and think, just maybe, you had done a good job of parenting?

But if you are an adult, how would you like to be able to say to James, “The reason you only know three is that you haven’t yet met me!”

Unfortunately, I have met people all over the world who are not doing what they should be doing.

If you aren’t sure what I mean by “what they should be doing”, you will understand as you read this book. I hope you find yourself being convinced that you really can do what you should be doing. And, until you are doing what you should be doing, you will continue to live someone else’s life instead of your own. You may even be good at living someone else’s life, but it will never be your life. You will continue to be unfulfilled and always have that gnawing feeling that you are taking someone else’s path to a place you were never intended to go.

By the way, what does James mean when he says, “I’m probably dancing right now or doing something else amazingly fun”? It means that, after doing many other things in life that our culture might consider more “respectable”, he has been willing to accept that he is never happier or feels more fulfilled than when he is dancing. Can a “real man”—and a really spiritual man at that—also be a great dancer? Meet James Davis who is an inspiration to a lot of people, including his Dad.

This book is dedicated to those who are doing what they should be doing and to those who want to move in that direction. I hope you are encouraged and inspired as you read of the people I’ve known.

I will warn you that I am not going to avoid controversy in writing this book. I think some things need to be said about an increasing narcissism and self-centeredness in our society. Narcissism and self-centeredness are not what this book is about. This book is about ordinary human beings, in relationships with one another, finding the freedom—and giving one another the permission—to be all they were created to be.

Write and tell me your own story: How did you discover that you were (or were not) living your own life and what are you doing about it?

“I’m Probably Dancing” Introduction

What follows is the Introduction to my new book, I’m Probably Dancing–Permission to Be Who You Already Are. I will be presenting rough drafts of each chapter as I write them. Chapters may end up in a different order than I present them in this blog. I welcome your input. The idea of the book is that each chapter will have an alternate theme. The theme of each odd numbered chapter will be raising children according to their own unique giftings. Stories in these chapters will show either how this was or was not accomplished in a child’s life and what the outcome became for the child. The theme of each even numbered chapter will be stories of my personal experiences as a substitute teacher in the Public School system and how kids in public school are, or are not, given opportunities to be themselves. Now for the Introduction (and, remember, what I offer will be rough drafts):

I was surprised at how nervous I was.

I sat behind the teacher’s desk. Then I got up and walked around the classroom tossing my water bottle from hand to hand.

I stood at the marker board in front of the rows of empty chairs. The board was wiped clean and I decided to write my name so the students would know who this stranger was taking the place of their regular teacher.

I walked to the back of the room and realized I couldn’t read what I had written on the board. I returned to the front of the class, erased the board and rewrote my name in huge letters.

CHRIS

DAVIS

The room was freezing cold. Eventually I came to realize most of the rooms in schools where I would be teaching were kept cold. Having spent my childhood in the desert—along with the fact that older people like me get cold easily—I always wanted it warmer than it was. But, the thermostats in school rooms are covered with a plastic cage so as not to be adjusted.

I returned to the teacher’s desk and sat back down, wondering where the students were. It was past time for class to begin and not one student had entered the room. Was I in the wrong room and the students were waiting for me somewhere else?

Just then I heard a small voice from outside the door. “He’s old,” it said, “like eighty or something.”

The classroom door had a small, opaque window in it. I saw movement through the smoky glass. A face looking in. Suddenly it dawned on me that, perhaps, students weren’t allowed to enter the room without adult permission. In the days to come I would learn many things students weren’t allowed to do without permission.

I got up and walked to the door and opened it to see twenty sixth graders lined up against the wall in the hallway as if they were facing a firing squad.

I must have had a strange look on my face because they looked up at me as if I might just eat them all for lunch. Maybe they thought I had heard the remark about being eighty or something.

Why had I decided to become a substitute teacher, anyway? It had been almost fifty years since I had been in a school room. I had even kept three of my four children at home during their schooling years because I had such negative memories of school and I just couldn’t let my sons go through the kind of public school experience I had.

I took a deep breath and said within myself, “I may not even make it through the day. But as long as I am going to be their teacher, these kids will not have a typical public school experience.”

“Good morning,” I said in the cheeriest voice I could muster. “Come on in!”

They filed into the room and sat at their desks. Somehow I knew they were not sitting at their regular, assigned seats. I didn’t care.

“Who are you?” one of the boys asked.

I pointed to the board.

“Can we call you ‘C.D.’?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Can you?” I responded with a wry smile.

“Yeah, that’s what I said. Can we call you ‘C.D.’?”

I repeated, “I don’t know, can you?” This time I emphasized the word “can”.

The girl sitting next to him said, “Stupid, he wants you to say “MAY we call you C.D.?

The boy rolled his eyes in disgust. “May we call you C.D.?” He also emphasized the word “may” but with deep sarcasm.

I looked at him and said, “Don’t you hate it when somebody says that to you?”

Several students chimed in at once: “Yeah, every time we ask if we can go to the bathroom, our teacher says, ‘I don’t know; can you go to the bathroom’”. Again, sarcasm.

“I used to hate that, myself,” I admitted. “But, hey, I’m a teacher, so you have to give me some slack. Who else will make you use proper English?”

May we call you D.V.D?” asked one girl. The whole class thought this was worth a hearty laugh. I didn’t get the joke. It hadn’t registered with me that this was a play on ‘C.D.’ She had to explain it to me and the class enjoyed my cluelessness.

“Let’s compromise,” I said. “You can call me ‘Mr. C.D.’ if you like.

The class immediately jumped on my use of the word ‘can’ instead of ‘may’ with loud protestations of glee. None of them were going to accept the excuse that I had said ‘can’ on purpose to test them.

I told the class, “The only thing I won’t put up with is Rude. I just don’t do Rude very well. I won’t be rude to you and you won’t be rude to me or to one another. Sometimes people don’t know they are being rude and they have to be told. So, if I say you have just been rude, you can apologize. I really like apologies. If you are rude and apologize I will forget it ever happened.”

Everyone nodded with understanding and I began the first day of what was to become my year of substitute teaching in the Public School System. Eventually, I came to call it My Great Undercover Experiment.

This book explains what I did and why I called it undercover

The Dream Poster (TM)

I Carved the Angel from the Marble

Part 1: The Dream Poster

In my first book, I Saw the Angel in the Marble, I wrote an article entitled, Identity-Directed Homeschooling. If you are reading this and don’t have access to the Identity-Directed article, I will do you a favor and give you the short version. Then the comments that follow will make more sense.

By the way, as you read the next three articles keep in mind that they are two sides of one argument. If they are not read this way, either might leave you thinking I am saying something I am not intending to say.

Anyway, in the Identity-Directed article I pointed out two opposing versions of how to think about a child. One is to see the child as our culture sees him: As a blank slate on which will be written all that is necessary for him to become a useful citizen. Said another way, the child is an empty vessel to be filled with all that society has decided is “necessary” so that he can grow up into a productive adult.

I would like to suggest a different approach: The child is neither a blank slate nor an empty vessel. Rather every child comes into the world with a fairly complete set of giftings, talents and callings that his Creator wants him to express during his life. One could articulate it this way: “The infant you hold in your arms was created, by His Father, from the foundation of the world, and in that child the Lord has put all the giftings, talents and callings He wants expressed from this individual so he may serve his generation well.” At a point in time, God said, “OK, [insert your child’s name]. This is your generation. Go into it and serve it well with what I have already put within you. Then return to Me for a ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.”

The reason this is so important is that, should a set of parents realize the truth of this idea, a dramatic change occurs in the way that child is going to be raised

In the first few decades of the 1800’s a new philosophy entered into the intellectual community of our country and it permeated the halls of government. This was a new idea that children were more the responsibility of the State than of their own parents. Therefore the State had a right to determine what children should learn as they grew up. Eventually, the accepted definition of “education” became, “passing the culture from one generation to the next.” This culture included a well-defined set of academics. All children were to learn the same information. As our culture slowly shifted away from its Christian bearings, what children were to learn also shifted (slowly and subtly) but the requirement to “learn it” remained.

Most parents would never admit that they are “filling up” their children with all that our society (including our educational system) has determined needs to be “put into” the child. If, however, that child’s parents come to accept that the child already contains specific things from his Creator, the parents will seek to determine what is “in there”, will prioritized them in the child’s life, and will spend whatever time and resources are necessary to bring those giftings, callings and talents to maturity.

[Again, don’t hear what I am not saying: I am not saying there aren’t very important things every individual needs to know in order to live in a 21st century world]. To continue…

Each of these perspectives, “filling the bucket” or “identity-directed”, dictates an entirely different set of experiences during the years our children are growing up in their home.

One says, “Long ago, our society decided what a child should know and learn, and we must be sure these things are what gets put in him before he leaves our home.” The other says, “Let’s discover this child and give him the time, the resources and the encouragement so that, when he leaves our home, he has become awesome at what God has already put within him to do.”

One says, “The highest form of child rearing is to create an employable individual. Everyone already knows what kids need, so just purchase someone’s Scope & Sequence, prepackaged curriculum and make the child learn what it contains.” The other says, “”Train up a child [finish using Amplified Bible]. And, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; not before ordinary men”

Most home schooling parents will give more thought to what they will use to teach a subject then they will give to why they are teaching that subject in the first place–or to why they are teaching it now. They just assume that what was done to them in school is what should be done to their own children. When this goes on for years, the child eventually decides that an adult will tell he what is important in life and what he should be learning. Finally, the child will come to believe that what he has a heart to do is not important and he will eventually disconnect from his own heart’s purpose. If asked, “What do you want to do?” he will say, “I don’t know.” And he will be telling the truth.

In many of our seminars we make an attempt to get children to reconnect with their heart by having them create a Dream Poster. This exercise has done wonders for both the children and their parents as each literally comes to see what is “hidden in the heart” of the child.

What is a Dream Poster?

The easiest way to describe the Dream Poster is to describe the components that go into making it. They include a white poster board (like the ones used for science experiments), a pair of scissors, a roll of double-sided removable tape (removable is the operative word here) and as many magazines as one can find from as many sources as possible.

What follows is the set of instructions I hand out when this exercise is done in groups:

Dream Poster™

Assignment

  • If the child is mature enough, this exercise should be done without the parents’ supervision. Children have a tendency to self-censor, meaning the child might not be honest if the parent is looking on and the child thinks something he would choose might be seen as inappropriate by the parent.
  • Instruct the child to look through the magazines. The idea is to cut out any pictures that show a person doing something that, if your child were allowed to do the same activity, one of his or her interests, desires or dreams would be satisfied or fulfilled.
  • When the child has found all the pictures that depict the child’s interests, desires and dreams, he should place them on the poster so that the most important one is in the very center. Place the rest of the pictures moving outward from the center as they assume their relative importance to the center picture.
  • When the child has decided on the arrangement of the pictures, he should paste them down with the removable double-sided tape. This way they can be removed or rearranged later on, if necessary.
  • Let the child show you his poster. Spend time allowing him to share the reasons he chose the pictures and their placement on the poster.
  • Allow your child to remove, replace or rearrange any pictures on the poster so they meet the child’s criteria for the assignment.
  • Put the poster in a prominent place. Encourage the child to adjust the placement of the pictures at any time, or to add and delete pictures as the child’s interests change their value or new ones become more important.
  • Continually look at, and discuss, your child’s Dream Poster.
  • Let each child make a poster.
  • Make a poster for yourself.

Sometimes, as time permits, I ask parents to choose one child they think they know well and make a poster as if they were that child. When the child has made his own poster, the child and parents compare posters. It is often interesting for the parent to see how well they knew the child.

One of the points above: Continually look at, and discuss, your child’s Dream Poster, is very important. A family was attending one of my conferences. Several months earlier the parents had led their children through the exercise of creating Dream Posters. When I announced to the gathering that the children would be making Dream Posters, the mother confessed, “We put our children’s Posters in their bedrooms; but, after awhile, they had just become part of the walls.” To this remark, her twelve-year old daughter said, “Mom, I change my Poster all the time, but you never noticed!”

Consider that your child’s Dream Poster may be more important to him or her than you realize. When a group of children in Australia made Posters, not one of them would allow the gathered group of parents to even see what they had made. Why do you think this was so? I concluded that the children had put their very souls on their Posters and the Posters were too important to them to be treated lightly. (You may even discover that a child has added things to his poster to satisfy what he perceives are his parents’ desires for him).

The entire purpose of the Poster exercise is to discover what God has put within this child so that you can do with the information what is suggested above. This is by no means the only way God will show you what He has created in the child. Simply try asking Him and He will tell you in all sorts of ways: what your child enjoys doing in his spare time; what he doesn’t enjoy doing (now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. See the next article!); whether he likes people or machinery; etc.

There are also many resources that can help you with your discovery process. I would suggest the following:

Discover Your Children’s Gifts by Don & Katie Fortune

Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos (Formerly titled, The Edison-Trait Child) by Dr. Lucy Jo Palladino

Identity-Directed Home Schooling by Chris Davis (Seminar on CD)

Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

The next question you shoulb ask is, “And what do I do when I “find out” my child?”

“Finding out” is not something that is ever totally accomplished as the Lord is always fine tuning His own work. However, the end product of all our parenting should be to give each child the things an institutional setting (traditional schooling) cannot do: give them the Resources, and give them the Time, to work with those resources, in other words, to become awesome at what God has already put within them to become. This is the ultimate “win-win”: God receives glory because the child has been allowed to grow up getting to do the “good works” which God prepared beforehand that he should walk in because he is God’s workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10).

“But,” you say, “My child needs to live in this 21st Century industrialized world. Doesn’t he need to learn more than what he wants to know?

The next article, Part Two: Creating Our Own Scope & Sequence, will address this question.

Reforming Public Schools: A response to Ken Robinson & Marty Nemko

My response to Ken Robinson’s “Revolution in Education”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LelXa3U_I

and

Marty Nemko’s“A Blueprint for Reinventing Education” http://www.martynemko.com/articles/blueprint-for-reinventing-education_id1595

Ken Robinson says millions have listened to, and agreed with, what he has said about public education. I admit to being one of these millions.

So, what do I disagree with?

For clarity, I will try to restate what I think Dr. Robinson says is wrong with public schooling:

First, Robinson says public school is obsessed with what he calls linearity which he describes as a straight-line approach to education that begins with the earliest educational age and progresses in a straight line all the way to college. He says public education has college as its ultimate goal when, in actuality, college may not be for everyone (or “not for everyone now”). Education, says Dr. Robinson, is not linear, but organic.

Second, Dr. Robinson says that public education is obsessed with conformity, or standardization, and, that “standardization impoverishes the human spirit.”

The analogy Dr. Robinson uses to describe conformity is that of a fast food restaurant which only serves a small, predetermined, menu that can be served up instantaneously. Dr. Robinson also calls this a factory model of education (an analogy which homeschoolers have used for years). What is preferable to a factory model of education is an agricultural model in which “an environment exists for each student to be able to thrive in a personal curriculum that, also, contains enough external support for what is ‘natural’ to grow” [emphasis mine].

To return to the restaurant analogy, a personal curriculum would be analogous to a restaurant offering only what the customer wants to eat.

Relating to conformity, Robinson says that “human communities depend on a diversity of talent rather than on standardization”.

Third, Dr. Robinson says that public education is obsessed with batching which he describes as placing children in homogeneous groupings rather than realizing that it is the child’s natural talents—energized by his passion—that makes true education possible for each individual.

One of Dr. Robinson’s main “fixes” is to require public schools to personalize education. “I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.”

Robinson continues, “…the problem with it [standardized testing] is that it fails to do the one thing we know works if we want to improve standards in schools, which is to address personal development.”

I am one of those in agreement with Dr. Robinson’s diagnoses of the problems of public education. We, in the homeschooling community, simply use other analogies: we speak of an assembly line form of education and we speak of how public education treats all children of the same age as “generic” human beings—the very thing that kills creativity and ignores the individual.

Now, to my areas of disagreement:

When Dr. Robinson speaks of education being analogous to a fast-food restaurant, I want to ask him three questions:

First, why are fast-food restaurants so popular?

Second, why do fast-food restaurants offer the menu choices they do?

Third, why do they serve their food so quickly?

There are questions that drive all public education:

First, “Since we want to produce an ‘educated individual’, what is an ‘educated individual’?”

Second, “What instrument will best tell us if we have succeeded in what we have set out to accomplish?”

Third, “How do we accomplish this within budget (i.e. most efficiently)?”

Fast-food restaurants have removed one of the most time-consuming responsibilities adults face (everything that has to do with feeding one’s family). Second, they have figured out how to do this in a financially efficient manner.

In the same way, public schools have removed one of the most time-consuming responsibilities parents once considered their personal domain. However, public schools are continually seeking to do this in a financially efficient manner—and this, in my opinion, is one of the reasons they must fail.

Ken Robinson and Marty Nemko never speak to the issue of whose responsibility it is to raise and educate one’s own children. They see the problems children face in school and they see how the country is failing because of what is happening to children in public schools. However, since public school is a given, these men are left looking for ways to “fix” public education. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the very responsibility with which public schooling is tasked mitigates against them being fixable.

So far, I have never heard anyone address the fact that the driver of all mass enterprise has to be financial efficiency. This is true of fast-food restaurants and it is true of public education.

Since efficiency requires ever greater conformity, Dr. Robinson’s solution of “a revolution in education that is oriented toward the individual young person and which prioritizes each individual’s internal talents” will never happen in public schools. The money doesn’t exist except for a very small, subculture of students.

And, Marty Nemko’s list of ways to fix public education—although some may beneficially tweak the system—also cannot work, because no “system” will ever produce what the individual human being needs to be productive in his or her own life. In my own experience, what Nemko describes as the “chronically disruptive students [who] must be placed in special classes” are usually those students who are simply more honest about the “nakedness of the Emperor” and who are unwilling to be treated as generic human beings but want to express their god-given talents and gifts in a way generic education won’t allow.

When I ask public schooled students what they do in their spare time, the “best students” invariably tell me they don’t have any spare time because they must do well on The Test (which could be the end of semester test, the ACT, the SAT, etc.). Efficiency has mandated that doing well on The Test is the ultimate goal because The Test has become the ultimate evaluator of every student, every educator, every school, and every school system. Public education is not set up to allow for freedom to be an individual because every young person’s future depends on what the writers of The Test questions have determined an “educated individual” to be.

I don’t believe the public school can be revolutionized. So, what is the alternative?