The Myth of Forced Determination

One argument that comes up over and over in defense of institutionalized education is the belief that children need to learn to buckle down and complete a task, even if it’s onorous to them. It’s even something that my very unschooling-supportive husband still struggles with.  I’ve heard it from every one of my friends when I discuss my educational viewpoint. Many of us labor under the assumption that life is full of being forced to do things that you hate, and kids must go through this experience time and again in order to hammer that in. They call it “stick-to-itiveness” or “determination.”

Here’s the thing, though: in life outside of school, when you do something you dislike, you often see the REASON for it. Say, for example, that I hate camping.  My friends all decide to do a big camping trip and I know that if I don’t go, I’ll miss out on great bonding time. I may dislike the actual camping part, but I see the value in going. Or, to bring in a largely used example, say you had a job that you hated or that included tasks that you disliked. If you aren’t taught to struggle through the hard stuff by an institution such as school, how will you ever be able to do it in your job? Well, first, you’re being paid to do it. That’s a motivation. Second, to a certain degree, you chose to be in that job. And, third, in the situation where you generally like the job but dislike certain portions, you see the benefit of getting through the hard stuff in order to keep a job you generally enjoy, and to further your career.

This isn’t something that needs to be taught to you by giving you a difficult task that has no meaning to you. Forcing a math-lover to read and analyze Romeo and Juliet accomplishes nothing, save to make that person dislike Shakespeare.  They didn’t learn to stick it out and get something completed, even if they didn’t like it. Instead, they learned to game the system and do as little as possible to get the task over with.

Unschooled kids complete tasks that they find difficult all the time. But, they do them because they see the reason for it and have a larger goal. They might want to create their own video game, so they go through the laborious process of learning a programing language. They may want to write a novel, so they spend hours and hours at the computer. They may want to win a Lego competition, so they learn about geometry and physics. If forced to do any of these tasks out of context, they would find them pointless and frustrating. But, because they have set their own goals and have the freedom to pursue their own interests, they amaze us with their stick-to-itivenss and determination.

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13 Comments on "The Myth of Forced Determination"

  1. Cheryl
    06/07/2010 at 7:11 am Permalink

    Myth, indeed. It drives me crazy when adults believe that force will teach self-determination. That’s a contradictory belief, of course.

    I tweeted and reblogged a link to your post on my blog: http://fyeahunschooling.blogspot.com. (I used to blog at Under the Apple Tree, so you can update your bloglist.)

  2. Cassi
    07/07/2010 at 4:47 pm Permalink

    Thanks, Cheryl. I appreciate the re-blog! (Link updated)

    Cassi

  3. the sleepy time gal
    14/10/2010 at 5:20 am Permalink

    how interesting. i feel like there is more personal responsibility when we choose what we want to do based on the consequence.

    thanks!

  4. Nick
    16/10/2010 at 5:24 am Permalink

    This myth seems to be pretty deeply ingrained in a lot of people. It’s totally false though. My 22 month old decides to do hard stuff all the time. Being determined to do what you want to do does not need to be taught. Becoming determined to do what others would force you to do requires years of soul smashing.

  5. Jessica
    01/12/2010 at 8:13 pm Permalink

    What I find most amusing about this myth, is the assumption that the traditionally educated children develop this knack for sticking to a task they don’t enjoy. I spent 13 years in public school and I never developed this magical ability to stick to anything! I’m a notorious “quiter” when I don’t care about something, to this day.

  6. Kathleen MacGregor
    06/01/2011 at 6:27 pm Permalink

    Teaching kids they have to do what they hate only creates a world of people doing what they hate as well as being disconnected from their real desire and life’s purpose. It’s heart breaking. I too am an unschooler of a 13 yo and a 10 yo. Unschooling has included, from time to time, my kids going to school (irony of ironies). They’ve wanted to check it out from time to time and I’ve supported their explorations.
    Anyway, I applaud both of us for getting it that we can teach our kids to do what they love.

  7. Dr. Rebecca Keller
    04/02/2011 at 9:40 am Permalink

    Wonderful! I love it and I’m a firm believer in letting kids explore those areas that interest them most. This is the way I write my books and teach my online classes. It’s fun to watch kids light up when you tell them go play, explore, investigate, question and learn about what you love. Given this freedom, they always amaze me.

    I love science, particularly molecular biology, chemistry and physics. I have three kids and none of them like science – two are budding writers and one is a gifted artist! LOL.

  8. Taylor
    04/02/2011 at 10:23 am Permalink

    My background as it relates to my 2 cents:

    -Raised Unschooled with my 3 siblings.
    -Currently a homeschooling parent.

    While I largely agree with your post, my personal perspective is somewhat different. My siblings and I agree that this is the major place where our mom’s way of unschooling us was hard as we grew into the world. We actually have all agreed that we would have like a little more requirement in our world. Not to the end of “Analyze R&J even though you’d rather be doing math”. More along the lines of “You said your project on Ireland would be done by now. It isn’t, so what are we going to do about that?”

    We were never required to follow through on our educational agreements, and so had a hard time with similar events once in college, jobs, etc.

    It is (like most parenting) a balancing act unique to each person and situation.

  9. Robin Whitcore
    02/09/2011 at 4:10 pm Permalink

    Well-written post!! This sentence really jumped out at me – “Unschooled kids complete tasks that they find difficult all the time.” People don’t “get” that! And the camping analogy is so perfect for me personally.

  10. Jesse
    08/03/2012 at 10:55 am Permalink

    Hi Cassi – thanks for the post. Forced Determination is a power struggle on for all involved, within and without.

    I love your blog.

    I wanted to send you this piece of magical beauty made in collaboration with an unschooled little girl from Texada Island, British Columbia. I think you’ll enjoy it:

    http://jessethom.bandcamp.com/

    Thanks again for your important work.
    Warmly,
    Jesse
    :)

  11. Cassi
    22/03/2012 at 9:16 pm Permalink

    Beautiful! I love the quote from her aunt about her being a feral child. And what a lovely voice she has. Anyone who questions unschooling as a method of education (and who may be particularly concerned about not forcing kids to learn to read) would not have much reply to that 5-year old’s abilities. Thanks for sharing, Jesse.

  12. Anita
    10/03/2013 at 10:11 am Permalink

    Just wanted to leave my 2 cents…I am actually a homeschooling parent that after 12 years decided to change over because I had a child that wasn’t reading. I left her alone because I had read that children generally read by the age of 10. She turned 10 last December and she actually was reading before that and wants to read to me every night. I believe in unschooling wholeheartedly! I am in the process of changing my entire life to an unschooling one as far as our entire life including education is concerned.
    Anita

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