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Monday, January 18, 2016

How a Guy Named Conrad Taught Me How to Inspire Kids to Learn

LEARNING comes implicitly and in the strangest places when you’re in the Kingdom of God — open to what the Lord’s Spirit would seek to teach us through his disciples and others.
Conrad is, I believe, a disciple (not that that always matters).  I met him at a family occasion to celebrate the Wedding of one of my nieces.  Conrad is on the other side of the family — an uncle of the groom.  He’s a cab driver.  He’s done that for two decades.  Cab drivers, in my experience of them, know how to tell a yarn.  There is an implicit entertainer in most cab drivers, for my mind.  And that’s my preconception as I entered into dialogue with Conrad.  God was soon showing me a new thing.  This was the gist of what he told me:
Steve, I told my kids, when they were 4 and 2, that they had to remember two things about school; two things only.  (Then he spoke in the first person as if I were those children that very day…):
1.     School is about fun.  You’re going to see lots of new things at school; it’s going to be a lot of fun.  They will take you on outings, you’ll play lots of different games, special people will talk with you, and you will have a teacher who will guide you in how to have fun.  School is about fun.  (The imputation of Conrad’s idea of fun was that it was a serious form of fun — a safe and an appropriate form of fun: innocent fun that children enjoy. There’s nothing to fear about school if you believe deep down that you’re there to have fun.)  And the best fun you can have is to ask questions.  If you don’t know anything, shoot your hand up and ask the teacher.  It’s their job to answer your questions.  They want to answer your questions.  So, if you don’t know something, anything, shoot your hand up.
2.     The second thing is to get the teacher’s questions right — as much as you can — remembering that getting things right is all part of the fun.  The more you answer the teacher’s questions right, the more fun you have.  But, Dad, how do we do that — how do we get their questions right?  Well, that comes back to the first point.  Because you’ve asked questions every time you didn’t know something, you’re going to know enough to get the teacher’s questions right.
I’m sure Conrad kept reminding his two kids of his instructions; and a sort of oral tradition must have formed.  Conrad encouraged his children to be curious, and curiosity was the ideal accompaniment to courage, for how many children learn not to put their hands up in fear they’ll be ridiculed for asking ‘silly’ questions.  Conrad’s children had a father who got into their heads before fear could take hold.
What I liked most about this precious wisdom is Conrad’s inculcation of fun over fear, and diligence over drudgery, in his children.  He groomed within them an idea of education being a good thing, a worthy thing, as something inherent to life.
How much better might our children do in their education if only the notion of fear were to be replaced with the notion of fun.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

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