Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Great Train Robbery, Part 4 (final post in this series)

The Great Train Robbery, Part 4: Does this really work? Final words and some practical examples.

Most people secretly harbor a desire to be really good at something; however, few people are ever given the chance to become really good at something. What time they could have spent becoming good at something has been stolen from them. Their 10,000 hours of deliberate, solitary practice (see part 1) has, instead, been spent on obligatory irrelevancies.

Several years ago, one of my sons shared with me his favorite quote:

“If I spend a few years doing something no one else will do, then I may spend the rest of my life doing something no one else can do.”

For years, that son spent time in deliberate, solitary practice until he acquired the ability to perform expertly in the area of his heart’s desire. In order to do this, his parents had to be willing to avoid those obligatory irrelevancies that would distract their son from gaining the acquisition of expert performance (see Part 1).

So important was this concept, we decided to step about as far away as possible from the public school paradigm: My sons never knew what grade they were in (because they were never in a grade); with the possible exception of math, their education did not follow established sequencing; they were not taught material just because they were a certain age, rather we waited to teach it until it had some real meaning; we never graded their work (if we thought it worth learning, they were simply required to master it)—and, we considered a waste of time (i.e. irrelevant) much of what their public schooled counterparts were being forced to learn.

Another son was given time to completely explore model rocketry. His technical aptitude soon came to the attention of a local college professor who asked my son to teach a group of senior citizens how to use the Internet, a skill he had acquired by deliberate, solitary practice in writing programs for the internet and diving headlong into learning all the then available computer programs. After turning down a scholarship from the University of Maryland, he now owns his own high-end web development company.

From age six, the youngest son grew up on stage, eventually performing in such shows as Cats and Les Miserables. By the time he turned 20, he decided to step away from theater to begin working in film. This year he formed his own production company.

As you read this, you may think each of these pursuits strange and completely outside what you would want your children to pursue. Yet, these were in my sons’ hearts to pursue. How easy to become good at what you love—if only you are given the chance to become good at what you love!

Did I decide to play it safe and “go for employability”? Believe me, I often thought about it! For years I wondered if I was raising three young men who would enter adulthood as “vacant lots”, incapable of functioning in a 21st century, industrialized world.

But, I hung on to God’s promise: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”—Proverbs 22:29. None of my three sons have actually stood before a “king” in the literal sense; however, I echo what one of them told me the other day: “I know few people who get to do what my brothers and I get to do—the very things we love to do.”

I would now say, The End. But, this is not the end of the story:

I don’t know how many actually read this blog; but I would like to ask my readers to share your own story of how each of you gave birth (or are giving birth) to your children’s personal giftings and callings. I think it would be a group encouragement to all.

It may even start a movement. Or, better yet, it may return homeschooling to what I believe the Lord intended it to be in the first place: that fertile ground in which young people are able to have the time for their own, deliberate, solitary practice so they, too, may acquire that expert performance as they are “trained up according to their way”, and, by being able to express their giftings and talents with excellence, thereby glorify their God.

It’s your turn to share…

The Great Train Robbery, Part 3

The Great Train Robbery, Part 3: Getting the Train(ing) Back on Track

Nothing robs a parent’s ability to train up a child more than The Obligation of Irrelevancies.

When we believe the things public school requires children to learn are the right things for them to learn, we are, then, obliged to teach our children the same things. Not only do we feel obligated to teach our children the same things, we also feel obligated to teach them in the same sequence and at the same age they are taught in public school. We ask ourselves, “Who are we, mere parents, to do differently with our children than would be done to them in school? Hasn’t public school had enough time to figure out what works? I am going to throw all that away and do something different? I don’t think so!”

But, if we care, we must also ask ourselves the question, “Would public school even try to train up my child according to his way—to narrow the focus of his educational pursuits to exactly agree with what God has put within this child? Then, does the school give my child the time necessary to gain the acquisition of expert performance?

Remember the phrase deliberate, solitary practice? I began this article (see Part 1) with the concept that, in order to gain the acquisition of expert performance, it takes about 10,000 hours, which translates into approximately 10 years of several-hours-per-day of such deliberate, solitary practice.

Ten years of a child’s life is about the time he spends in grades 3 through high school graduation; in other words, most of his childhood! I suggest that most of the time a child spends in public school is not spent having the focus of his education narrowed to what his inherent giftings are; rather, most of those 10 years are spent teaching the child huge amounts of irrelevant information, at an age when he isn’t ready to learn most of what is being presented, anyway.

By graduation, the opportunity for the child to be trained up according to his way has been robbed! Is it any wonder that so many people go to school, get a job, and, after 20 years, be really good at something they hate doing. What has happened? That person longs to depart from it when he is old. This would not have happened had he been trained up according to his way.

Do you know a child who will spend hours practicing the piano, or dance, or working on the car, or learning computer languages? Over the years, a great many exasperated parents have come to me saying, “All my child wants to do is….!” I ask them, “Are you willing to remove the irrelevancies from your child’s schooling and allow him or her the time to spend in deliberate, solitary practice, to become what is in his or her heart to become: to gain the acquisition of expert performance?

Why do I keep hitting on this idea of expert performance? It is simple: I believe God gives each of our children giftings and callings. If the child is allowed time to become excellent in the performance of those giftings and callings, those giftings and callings will allow the child to bring glory to God through those giftings and callings. It doesn’t matter if the person is excellent at dance, music, plumbing, auto mechanics, computer technology, or whatever. What does matter is that the person has had time to acquire expert performance in the areas that God has gifted him in.

Since public school has a one-track mind for all children—a track leading to employability—what can be said of the child who has acquired expert performance in a field of his or her heart’s desire? God, Himself, answers this question in the last verse in the same chapter of Proverbs 22, which talks about training up a child…. God puts it this way in verse 29, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” How more simply could that promise have been stated!

Next, the final installment of The Great Train Robbery, Part 4: Does this really work? Final words and some practical examples.

The Great Train Robbery, Part 2

The Great Train Robbery, Part 2: It’s (Not) Hard to Stop a Train

In the earliest years of homeschooling, a particular scripture was often quoted by parents and conference speakers: Train up a child in the way he should go and, even when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

Whenever this scripture was quoted, the speaker made sure everyone understood that the literal meaning of the way he should go was really according to his way. Another way to restate this is on the road he should travel; or, for the sake of my train analogy, on the right track. The emphasis is that each child has a specific way (road, track) he or she is supposed to be traveling. Public school, on the other hand, saw children, not as individuals with an individual path, but as a group, all of whom had only one, common, road to travel—or track they were on—the track leading to employability.

With all the emphasis on according to his way, no one was explaining what it meant to train up a child, even though scripture emphatically told us that’s what we were supposed to be doing.

Simply stated, train up is one Hebrew word that means to narrow. In Proverbs 22:6 it is translated train up while, in every other instance where it is used in scripture, it is translated dedicate. So, when Solomon dedicated the Temple, a building that could have had many purposes, became what it was originally intended to be: unique. Its purpose was narrowed. It was never to be anything other than the dwelling place of God.

Unique? Narrowed? Dedicated? A very specific road (or track) each is to travel? No generic children being put on a common track leading toward employability?

When we narrow the focus of each child’s education to fit the road he was created to take—when we dedicate him (and, therefore, his educational pursuits) so he will become, not employable, but prepared to be who he was created to be—we are stating that we refuse to derail the train(ing up) with educational irrelevancies that waste precious time needed for what Dr. Ericsson calls the acquisition of expert performance (see previous post).

Why is it so necessary for each of our children to acquire the ability to “expertly perform” in a specific area and how, as homeschooling parents, are we keeping them from acquiring this ability?

Next on The Great Train Robbery: Part 3: Getting the Train(ing) Back on Track

The Great Train Robbery, Part 1

The Great Train Robbery, Part 1: The 10,000 Hour Rule

I was in Starbucks last week when I overheard a man explaining to a young woman (his daughter?) the difference between a world-class, solo musician, and a music teacher. When the girl asked the difference, the man said, “Basically, the difference is that the world-class musician has practiced for 10,000 hours.”

When I heard him say, “10,000 hours”, my ears perked up because I had recently heard about The 10,000 Hour Rule as it applies to musicians, athletes, and others whom we consider “uncommonly talented”. I even briefly mentioned this concept in one of my previous blogs.

The phrase, The 10,000 Hour Rule (as it is popularly called) comes from research conducted by Dr. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues as they set out to discover the factors that determine what they labeled the acquisition of expert performance among individuals—that ability to perform seemingly effortlessly at a skill level so high the rest of us eagerly pay to watch, and which we don’t think is even available to us, normal humans.

Ericsson studied the lives of professional musicians, chess masters and other “greats” and discovered that, contrary to what one might believe, individuals who attain to extraordinary levels of expertise do not have extraordinary intelligence, nor are they extraordinary in any way that suggests they would have become future luminaries. Rather, what causes them to attain to levels of expertise is what Ericsson calls the role of deliberate, solitary practice.

Here is a quote from one of his research papers: “Many characteristics, once believed to reflect innate talent, are actually the result of intense practice, extended for a minimum of ten years.”

Ericsson breaks down an individual’s capacity for performance levels as follows: 10,000 hours of practice will produce an individual at the highest levels of accomplishment in an area; 5,000 hours produce the lowest level of performer who could still be considered “accomplished”; 2,000 hours produce a high-level amateur.

In the next installment, I will discuss what this has to do with educating of our children. Some of you may have already guessed why I chose the title of this series of articles. If you haven’t, tune in next time for the second installment of The Great Train Robbery.

Who said “They grow up so fast”?

When my boys were young, I was often told, “Enjoy them now. They grow up way too fast.”

My response was always, “Yeah, yeah. I know” (I didn’t actually say this, of course; but I thought it).

Most parents of young children think of childhood as lasting into the foggy, dim and distant future. In other words, we have lots of time to raise, and educate, these kids. Right?

Not true, as parents of grown children know all too well.

God could have made us able to become proficient in our areas of giftings and callings in a short period of time. He didn’t. I don’t know why He didn’t. One thing we do know is that it takes many years to achieve proficiency in just about anything worthwhile.

Bummer for the public schooled child, because public school steals the lion’s share of time the child needs to become proficient in the areas of his/her God-given giftings and callings.

What does public school offer children in place of the time the child should be spending becoming proficient in his/her giftings and callings? Answer: All the things you and I have forgotten since we left school.

Our choice is simple: Make our children learn what the public school requires or give our children the time they need to become proficient in their giftings and callings and use the time left over for them to learn what they won’t forget (because it wasn’t important and never has been).