Monthly Archives: February 2014

Conversations Without Answers

Imagine helping kids to start a conversation without worrying about where it will end up. As adults we often think we know where a conversation should go, think we know the answers. But do we always know best?

In a previous post, we wrote about conversations without questions. We suggested avoiding questions in hard talks with kids, teens, and significant others. In these circumstances, questions often seem pedantic and can put the other person on the spot (“Why would you do that?”, “What were you thinking?”) … not a good strategy for achieving mutual understanding when talking about something of importance. In this post, we want to talk about conversations without answers.

Parents often struggle when there is conflict between kids because they feel they need to find answers, to fix problems. They either avoid the tension by separating the kids, or push an imposed resolution that makes little sense to young ones. What if we grown-ups enter into conversations about conflict without being responsible for finding the answer? Are we really the ones most qualified to find the answers anyhow?

When there is a conflict, one of the great gifts we can give our kids is simply to help them acknowledge feelings and make sure everyone feels heard and understood. From this place of understanding, it is easy (and enlightening) to then invite all involved to consider a solution. Help children be heard and understood, and then stand back to watch their natural problem-solving skills kick in. Sometimes the answers come easily, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes it is enough merely to acknowledge that there has been a conflict and exchange apologies. There doesn’t always have to be an answer; but there can always be reconciliation.

If we are the kinds of people who don’t like uncertainty, then we are likely to push for answers in order to put ourselves at ease. By relaxing our impulse to fix problems, we are able to cultivate more open conversations between kids, in which they are more free to discover solutions for themselves. If we’re honest with ourselves, we also sometimes carry around our own memories of personal conflict. When this is true, it’s even more important to help kids work out problems in their own power, so that we don’t press them inappropriately to a conclusion meant to satisfy us.

Make room for more creative solutions in conversations between children by not assuming that we know the answers to their problems: a conversation begun without an answer in mind is one that encourages full participation. The wise grown-up will recognize that this strategy is not only suitable for children.

[This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog]

What Education

We find that it’s hard to advocate for any single kind of education, because we have encountered a multitude. We’ve experienced it all: home school, co-ops, charter schools, and private prep-schools; public high schools, tiny liberal-arts colleges, city colleges, and universities. We’ve taught and learned in all contexts.

Dave grew up on the Peninsula, starting his local education with Montessori and public elementary school, finishing at a 6-12th grade prep school. In Athens, Greece, Anghelika attended an international/bilingual preschool, and continued in international schools throughout her education (finishing with High School at TASIS Hellenic) before coming to the U.S.. 30 years ago, we met at a college of 600 in Bennington, Vermont, where we designed our own education. Dave went on to get a Masters of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary, while Anghelika began working for preschools and studying early childhood education at Pasadena City College.

Our children joined Redwood Parents Preschool in Redwood City after we settled back in the area, Anghelika began a lifelong relationship with parent-participation schools, and Dave began to teach and work with adults in churches. Today, Dave continues to work with adults, but is also a student again, in Santa Clara University’s clinical psychology program, and teaches homeschool enrichment classes for kids aged 6-18.

During the elementary years, our kids went to alternative/charter schools. Then we moved to Los Altos, and our 2nd- and 6th-graders began a march through the public system again with a real focus on testing and academic success. By the time our kids got to high school, we didn’t know it, but there were four choices. The only choice we could see was the one ten feet from our back door: our back gate opens up to the fields of Los Altos High. Our daughter spent two years there before transferring to the alternative arts- and project-based program in the district called Freestyle … a no-brainer for our brilliantly talented artist who would go on to art college. Our son, who we always thought would benefit from Freestyle’s alternative style, would claim “I’m not an artist” and end the conversation.

But after years of struggling with the academic culture of LAHS, he (with our support) finally took the advice of his advisors, and moved to Alta Vista, the continuation High School in our district, for his last year-and-a-half of high school. It seems like the independent-study model at Alta Vista will be perfect for him, as we have a suspicion that he will do part of his college education via independent study, while testing for credit though the college board’s CLEP tests. He’s also working with a tutor.

Is there a kind of education that we haven’t come in contact with? We’ve seen a lot of models, and it would make little sense for us to tell anyone they should learn anything from the way we did it. Our own education and that of our kids’ has been eclectic, to say the least.

But having tasted from just about the whole buffet, we can say how important it feels (with our son, for example), not to settle into a rut and do only what’s in front of you. Our guy is beginning to get a lot more traction right now, and we kind of wish we’d made some changes earlier in his high school career. If we could go back, we would tell our less wrinkly selves to never believe that one school can provide all that a child needs.

We are fortunate that within our district there are a variety of options, and we really see them as options now. We might have thought that we were at the ‘best’ school in the district and that there were ‘other’ schools where you might end up if you can’t handle the ‘best’. This makes little sense to us now. The best school is where you have success in learning. Our son seems to have found that. For now.

[This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula blog]