Why Do We Hide Behind Institutions?

This post is inspired by a meme I saw on Facebook late at night (below). Now, anecdotal evidence is always problematic. I’m only trying to use these commonly accepted anecdotes to show flaws in how we think about our lives; not to prove one lifestyle is better than another.

So: I was homeschooled so I often hear about the stereotypical, awkward, ill-socialised or unsuccessful homeschooler. Many folks use these stories to conclude that homeschooling doesn’t work; you need institutionalised education.

Now look back at your high school classes (if you went to school). Were there any awkward, ill-socialised or unsuccessful students? As a public school teacher, I see so many. So many.

So how come we’ll say that awkward homeschoolers proves homeschooling doesn’t work, but all those stunted public schoolers doesn’t dismiss public schooling in our minds?47317633_2044461182241084_7275273054341562368_n

Leaving aside the debate about whether homeschooling does in truth work, why do we hold our anecdotes to a double standard?

I don’t attend a church service. Christians ask me tonnes of questions about whether that’s really healthy for my faith. Yet, I also sit on so many conversations where we mourn that many people attend church but do not grow, without anyone suggesting this abject failure means we must reject church-going.

At least, that’s where conversation goes when no one’s buckling an institutionalised trend. Hrm…

Again, we apply a double standard to how we live our lives, based on whether you’re using an institution or not.

It seems to me that as a rule, we are often okay with stunted growth provided it happens under the auspices of a socially approved organisation or norm. We chalk it up to the inevitable “falling through the cracks” that always happens in large groups of people. Maybe this is okay; maybe this is the only way to psychologically cope with the horrible fact that in a fallen world, not everyone’s going to have a good experience.

But when God’s love drives you to see people flourish, you talk about their flourishing and the best ways for them to achieve it. Their methods’ normalcy or institutionalisation is not relevant; only their effectiveness.

So why do we keep coming back to institutions, regardless of results, when we should know better?

This is probably too harsh, but at least on the surface it feels to me like intellectual cowardice. Needing institutions regardless of results can blind us to the scary truth that our flourishing is ultimately our responsibility, even if we choose to use an institution. Instead, we fob that responsibility off to an institution. This shirking is so ingrained in us that we actively distrust any efforts to secure flourishing aside from bureaucratic organisations!

I’ll repeat that: we actively distrust efforts to secure flourishing aside from bureaucratic organisations, independent of fact!

Josh’s blunt, late-night brain (which really shouldn’t allowed to blog) says we should develop the testicular fortitude to own our own flourishing, whether we use the formidable resources an institution has to offer or craft our own solutions. We should judge the results based on the results, and not out of fear that we are not under the covering of a wider organisation.

The overworked, more winsome side of Josh’s brain wants to ask: “next time you see someone embrace unorthodox choices, can you find a way to keep the conversation on the fruit of their behaviour and not their non-conformity?”

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The Best Four Things I Learnt In School

The education on offer in Australia is truly spectacular. Historically, it’s very unusual that almost every citizen gets access to the education that we do.

So, here is a list of the four most important things I learnt in school. I’ve tried to give thought to how I learnt these things too, but that is hard because sometimes it’s our most invisible values and habits that have the greatest impact.

While I was homeschooled, this is not a homeschooling list. There’s no reason you can’t pursue these things in school also; I certainly hope to impart them to my classes as a high school teacher.

#1: Learning is for people, not the other way round

Ivory Towers: Just Say No!

My parents drummed it into me through conversations, Bible studies and parental correction that there is no point learning information if you don’t learn how to love your neighbour as yourself. After all, God created humans in His image and that makes people central to God’s universe. Their mantra was “God created ideas for people, not people for ideas”. That means being humble enough to respect others regardless of what they do or do not know, willing to share what you know to make others greater, and fundamentally interested in other people and not just data.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this attitude doesn’t just make you a better person, it makes you a more teachable learner.

#2: A Love of Learning

Knowing lots of information is useful. But what has proved far more impactful in my life is the love of learning. If you love finding out new stuff, then you will go and find that stuff out whenever you need it, for the rest of your life. This is crucial because obviously school cannot predict all the things you will need to know for the next sixty years of your life.

It’s hard to say how my parents taught this, but I think the key was they stressed the realness of what we were learning. These are real people, these are real dilemmas in life, these are real things that happen. This gave learning immense significance, which in turn wired our brains to trust that learning is meaningful. Similarly, my parents drove us to pursue our passions, and this again taught us to sub-consciously associate learning with value, desirability and worth.

#3: How to Learn

Google Is Your Friend

Especially in the age of the internet, you can learn anything at any time. The trick isn’t to retain information in high school for the rest of your life until you need it in your forties. The trick is to know how to learn what it is you need to know, and how to go learn it.

I am glad I learnt how to research: how to construct a good Google search, how to use a library or an index or a table of contents. More fundamentally, I’m glad I was taught how to ask good questions. This creates a positive feedback loop that rewards curiosity; when you’re used to asking questions successfully, you get lots of practice at finding answers!

#4: Touch Typing

This might seem an oddly specific skill compared to the rest of the list, but I am so, so glad Mum made us sit down with that Typing Tutor program and learn to touch type (type without looking at the keyboard). I genuinely believe typing is the penmanship of the 21st century. Neat handwriting is nice, but we only write by hand in very specific circumstances. Typing is a near-universal chore, so being able to type comfortably and speedily is essential.

thoughful dinosaur
This is you without touch typing.

Watching anyone who has office work to do or an email to write “dinosaur peck” at individual keys is painful. It’s tiring, uncomfortable and slow. Touch-typing lets you get so much more done in the same amount of time before you weary of computer work, and makes the experience of writing far less off-putting. That means you will do more, and do it more quickly!

 

 

What is ‘Adulting’?

A friend of mine was turning eighteen. Being a thoughtful person, she was asking her older friends what they thought it meant to be an adult. I thought that was a fantastic idea, and it really made me stop and think. What is adulthood?

I’m “only” 25. Compared to the human lifespan, adulthood is still relatively new for me. But on the way to growing up, I’ve encountered several misconceptions.

Adulthood is not an age – not in any meaningful sense. The idea of ‘growing up’ entails certain practices, beliefs or characteristics. These don’t automatically come with age, as the infamous “man-child” demonstrates. Sure, we might expect someone to grow up eventually, but a given number of trips around the sun doesn’t just make it happen.

baby cake
Growing Up and Growing Old isn’t the same thing 

Neither is it individual milestones like being allowed to drink, vote, or drive. People always made a big fuss about them when I was a teenager. I didn’t care so much; maybe because I am a boring person. But truthfully, these are individual activities and they might be very meaningful to individual people. They might even enable true adulthood (more on that later) but they aren’t the thing itself. We shouldn’t mistake expressions of adulthood for the substance of growing up.

Most importantly, growing up isn’t about independence from people, like your parents or your family. I think this was the most common vision of adulthood I heard, and it’s nuts. We drum into young people that they need to be individualists and get some space from family life, and then wonder why they struggle to adjust to the constraints of living with another person when they get married. Healthy adulthood is not about separating ourselves from other people, because all individuals need community. The question is whether we will find a supportive community while living in the same house as adults who are related to us, adults who are not, or by ourselves. I appreciate that moving out of home or living with different adults can be exciting, healthy or formational, but I question the individualist spirit behind the “move out of home” mantra. Being an adult is not about keeping a healthy distance from deep relational bonds.

Then what is adulthood?

As I understand it as a young adult myself, adulthood is an attitude that “the buck stops with you”, that you answer for your choices and what becomes of them. Disney has sold us the lie that we can be whoever we want to be, and so by extension, our world can become whatever we want it to be. This is a fantasy. So much of what dominates our lives (politics, economics, social contexts, other people) lies beyond our control. Maybe Millennials resent Baby Boomers for the difficult world we’ve inherited because we’re slowly realising our own powerlessness.

No, adulthood is the conviction that it’s up to you to make the most of whatever happens in your life. No one else is going to do it for you. The hard part is that it takes effort, initiative and courage to experiment as you figure out how you’re going to make your life happen.

l plate
Cars. Surprisingly Useful.

And there are many ways to practice and live out this philosophy. Despite my apathy towards cars, learning to drive enabled seventeen year old me to get a job and to more vigorously pursue the social opportunities that interested me. Those were ways that I started

to own my own choices in my head. Conversely, I was blessed with a supportive adult family and living at home wasn’t an obstacle to that type of ownership. There is no one path to adulting because it’s a character trait and not a set of cultural norms.

Naturally, your ability to live out this conviction expands as your body and mind matures. In our society, there are limits to how many responsibilities under 18-year olds can adopt. Biologically, puberty in the early teens (and the subsequent mental development for the next decade or more) also grows your capacity to respond proactively to life’s challenges.

Adulthood isn’t an on-off switch either. There are many ways teenagers can take responsibility for parts of their lives, and some people might consider themselves overall responsible at a different age to others. Owning your choices is such a varied and far-ranging concept that we should probably understand ‘adulting’ as a muscle we can start at a surprisingly early age, and continue to develop for the rest of our lives.

Adulthood isn’t an age, a milestone or a living arrangement. It is the headspace that you answer for your choices and their consequences, and that you’re willing to learn how to do that well.