The Personal Reason

When it comes to our own kids, there is no room for compromise. We will lay down our lives for them.

I have two children, a son and a daughter. They are three years apart in age.

My son has always done well in a traditional education environment. He understands what it takes for others to see his success and works hard toward that goal. And his self-discipline has been rewarded many times over.

He was, like his dad, what is called a compliant learner.

A compliant learner learns where the lines are and colors inside those lines. My son thrived throughout his academic journey. But not my daughter.

She had trouble not only understanding the lines but why she should even color within them. It started early. Why learn the alphabet? Why learn to read time?

By 4th grade my son could name every state capital in the country, asking us over and over again to have us challenge him on a map. At that same age, my daughter, when I asked what time it was on the clock, would look at me blankly and say a random number like 2320, hoping that this number might assuage me. I would then ask again and receive another random number. She had no interest in the question, much less the answer.

I was worried.

This worry continued through middle school and into high school. She was a puzzle to me.

But something interesting happened the summer before she entered high school. That summer, her mother wanted to sign her up for a camp. Perhaps she could raft down the Deschutes like her brother had done or go sailing up in the San Juans? What great adventure would she like to have?

The answer chagrined her mother. After looking at the catalogs of different camp programs, she told my wife that she wanted to learn how to program ATMs in C. Despite multiple attempts to dissuade her, her mother finally relented and signed her up.

She loved it. While she was the only girl in the class, something about the challenge of learning a computer language, and making something work with it, empowered her. She felt a nascent superpower.

My daughter was a sophomore in high school at the time that I found myself in that site council meeting. A few weeks before, I had asked her if she was still interested in coding. She wasn't.

My heart sank. I asked why. She explained that none of her friends were interested in it. So she no longer was.

Bonding is so important in high school. Clearly, she didn't want to be alone. She was no longer interested in coding because none of her friends were interested in it.

Wearing my industry hat, her words worried me. We desperately needed not only coders but female coders in particular. And here was my own daughter who was no longer interested in entering my world.

Wearing my dad hat, her comments were even more worrying. I had seen a spark of her curiosity and glimpses of her confidence that summer that I had never seen before. And now that delicate flame was being extinguished.

Extinguished because she was in a traditional academic environment where no one was being excited by the opportunities of being a maker in the new creative economy.

She was in a learning environment designed for compliant learners. Not for students like her - someone who, I began to understand, learns only when they needed to know something in order to solve a problem.

A creative learner, perhaps?

But I soon realized that my daughter was not alone. Many of the students in her high school were just showing up and going through the motions, not sure why they were there.

Might this lack of purpose and lack of engagement be related to the low graduation rates? Could there be another way of learning?