My 8 year old son is asking me why do we have to go to school and score good marks. What would be a smart and good answer? originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
My daughter asked me the same question last year for the first time. She was 7 years old and I didn’t have a handy, disarming answer to give her. So we sat down together and had a nice chat.
The first thing I asked her was to describe a usual day in school as well as the things she likes / dislikes. After talking about it for a few minutes she concluded that at school:
1. She has made a lot of good friends she enjoys playing with
2. She has learned new things she really likes
3. Sometimes she gets bored and would rather be someplace else.
Then we discussed about them. Starting from No 1 we agreed that if she left school she’d miss playing with her friends and especially her best friend. Of course she would have a chance to meet her on the weekends, but my daughter said that this wouldn’t be enough. She likes seeing her every day, and also talking and hanging around with her during school time.
Regarding No 2 she, with my help, listed all the new stuff she’s learned at school during the past couple of years e.g. reading, writing, counting, and other stuff about the environment, human life etc. I asked her if she felt more independent than her little sister (e.g. she can read the stories she likes regardless of her mom and dad’s free time) and if she enjoys being able to understand more about the way the world around her “works”. She admitted that the knowledge she now possesses makes her feel better both outside the class, as she can talk about subjects she couldn’t when younger or she can read books to younger children and inside the class, especially when she answers a question correctly and gets praised by her teacher. Then, after telling me that she already knows how to read and write and there’s nothing more to learn, I made clear that there is a whole lot more knowledge out there waiting to be understood. Please, don’t underestimate this sentence, because it seems that children feel confident that they know almost everything. This might be because repetition is dominant in the educational process and learning new, interesting things is not an everyday fact. So, falsely, children feel that they repeat because there is not much new stuff out there to learn.
At this point I seized the opportunity to talk a bit more about knowledge and why it is important for humans. Of course we used examples of her own life and skills and not vague and abstract notions. For example we talked about her desire to become a teacher when she grows up and how she must gain certain knowledge and skills to achieve it as well as how she will pass it to her students when she becomes a teacher.
No 3 was obviously a difficult thing to talk about. However I tried to make her realise that we don’t always enjoy the whole process of doing something and that we have to focus on the reasons we’re doing it. I used as an example her ballet lessons which sometimes feel hard and boring, but are necessary to make the progress she finally feels proud of. I also made clear that this happens to her mom and me sometimes.
I wouldn’t like to go on and write the whole conversation in detail, because I believe I’ve given the gist of it.
At the end I asked her how she felt about the subject she raised. She concluded that she wouldn’t want to stop going to school, because she’d miss her friends and the knowledge required to become a teacher. Although we talked about many more things, these two were most important to her.
The thing I enjoyed most was that I managed to keep myself from preaching. We talked about the problem she faced which means that I had her full attention and we managed to come to rational conclusions together. It wasn’t just me talking and deciding and her listening and doing.
Of course our discussion was rather simplistic. All of you can find flaws and gaps in the reasoning I wrote above. However, in such important matters, I never talk to my kids having in mind what to say to end the discussion right there. I rather try to lay the foundation for more elaborate discussions in the future.
Indeed, about a month ago, after summer vacations and before schools started she brought up the same subject again. This gave me the perfect chance to take her on a walk and talk about it a bit more. I also managed to sneak into our conversation subjects associated with knowledge (acquisition and passing on to the next generations) and the role of the state in it (education, laws etc). Our walk gave me a ton of examples to use in my arguments (cities, roads, clean water, electricity, buildings, police etc) and also inspired my daughter to ask a million more questions. Which means another chance to spend some quality time together :-)
Hope this message helps you start and enjoy a conversation with your children.
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