A few days ago my 10-year-old son came into my office and asked: “what number is April?”. Confused, I turned around from my work and said: “what do you mean?”. He showed me something he was working on and said he needed the number for April. He was asking how to numerically identify the fourth month of the year i.e. 4. I looked at him and said: “This is easy, just start at January and count the numbers on your fingers until you get to April, and that will tell you its number”.
I smiled at him and turned back to my computer. A few moments later I heard “three?”, and I turned to see him still standing in my office. “You must have missed one,” I said, “count them again, start with January and work your way down”. He looked at me with a sad face and then tipped his head down and mumbled: “I don’t know my months”.
It’s amazing how fast our minds can process, and how much information we can examine in just a split second. The kid’s been in school since he was three. He’s literally spent thousands and thousands of hours in a chair in front of professional teachers. How could he not know the months? My mind also delivered a reminder of a letter from our school board asking for yet another tax increase because they are low on funds. Simultaneously this miracle of a mind pulled up a tour I recently took of a new high school that was built a block from my house. It’s an absolute marvel of a structure, with some of the most beautiful spaces I’ve seen in any modern building. And guess what, it cost nearly 100 million dollars… for a HIGH SCHOOL!! In this same split second of mental processing I remembered one of the school board members at a different school’s open house telling me a bogus statistic that “students learn 10% better in beautiful buildings”. And then my mind started evaluating “so, wait… my son goes to a brand new elementary school with (again) excessive waste in the design, operation and construction costs. He’s been in the presence of many “educators” (as they now like to call themselves) and yet, he…doesn’t…know…the…months. This is a fifth-grader. grrr
Frustrated at their blatant waste of my money and his time in that “beautiful building” I looked at him, flabbergasted and said, “you don’t know your months!?”. My frustration at “the system” must have come through in my tone and appearance. He thought my frustration was pointed at him. “How is it even possible that you don’t know your months?!” (speaking to our overspending, overtaxing, underperforming school board). His little wet eyeballs met mine and he simply said: “nobody ever taught me”. It was the most sincere thing I’ve ever heard him say. He wasn’t blaming anyone or pointing fingers, it was an honest evaluation of the situation. He didn’t know the months, because no one had taught him.
If you have kids or kids in your life, pay special attention to the thoughts you have in these types of moments. We can all learn a lot from our little friends.
I stopped what I was doing and cleared a space from the lower section of my wall-sized whiteboard and wrote the name of each month, in order from top to bottom. Then I wrote a number (1-12) to the left of each month and to the right I wrote down things that happen in those months (certain holidays, birthdays, etc) so he could mentally map out things like “July is Independence Day”, “Christmas is December”, etc. Then I taught him the months, showed him the numbers and explained what holidays are happening around what months of the year. Props to the school system for teaching him how to read and memorize. He set about memorizing the months of the year. With his emotions still a little rattled, he sniffled through the exercise and after about 20 minutes and a few failed attempts he had them memorized.
So what are the lessons we can learn from this?
- It is the role of parents to ensure their children are prepared to enter the world as well educated, independently thinking adults. Reading and memorizing are not enough.
- Make sure frustrations from one area of life don’t spill over to other areas of life.
- “Nobody ever taught me” is a valid comment for a child to make. But, as adults, it is our responsibility to ask the questions so we can learn the information. We are not to sit at a trough waiting to be fed like school children. We must engage in a cause worthy of our time and effort and then ask every question necessary to every person capable of answering in order to gain the understanding we need to accomplish our work. We must also learn how to avoid run-on sentences.
Think about this example. NASA didn’t put a man on the moon because they were spoon-fed the information. Nobody sat down and said, “here’s exactly how you do this”. Instead, they had a thing to do and they asked millions of questions to figure it out. We can all do the same. We’ve all got a thing or two to do. It’s up to us to ask the questions and then apply our God-given imagination to fill the gap from what we know, to what we believe is possible.
If your debt is out of control, if your body is a mess, if your relationships are junk, find people who have the opposite life and start asking questions. Their life didn’t “just happen”, they had to figure out how to become financially stable, physically healthy and happy in pretty much any situation that comes along. Read books, watch TED talks, attend seminars. Don’t think for a second that anyone is going to show up and just teach you everything you need to know. They are all busy trying to do a thing too.
Kids can say “nobody taught me”… it’s up to you to ask. And asking will change your life.