‘Have To’ vs. ‘Want To’

Hubby and I watched ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ a few nights ago with the kids. I’d held out from seeing it in the movie theater because I remember reading it in the 4th grade and bawling for days. This same teacher had us read ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ as well…it took me years to stop expecting the lead characters to die unexpectedly in every book I read.

While I loved ‘Bridge’, I hadn’t read it since Mrs. W., and didn’t feel like reliving my hysteria in front of an audience, so we had waited this long to watch it on cable. I’d deluded myself into thinking that maybe since Disney had a hand in it, they cut out the sad ending and put in a ‘happily ever after’ one. Uh, no. By the time the last 30 minutes came around, hubby and I were sobbing so loudly on the bed together, the kids sat down on the floor closer to the TV.

When I first read it, I identified with the kids. This time around, as a parent, I related Leslie to the Naturalist (truly, it’s like her autobiography!) and brought a whole ‘nother experience to it. Thus, the chest racking sobs. But before the sound of my tears drowned out what was being said, there was a line that Leslie said after going to church with Jesse that stuck with me.

You have to believe it, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.

I see this discrepancy between ‘have to’ and ‘want to’ every day with The Naturalist and her friends. They’ll be over after school, and one will start up with, “We started science today. Ugh. I hate it.” Someone else will chime in with, “Are you doing the Human Body?” “No, we did that last year. I thought it was boring, but now we’re doing Biology and it’s really boring.” The Naturalist asks, “why don’t you like biology? It’s cool! It’s growing plants, watching animals, and going on hikes!” The first girl answers back, “Yeah, I liked growing our plants, but then we had to write down all the steps AND do a worksheet AND THEN take a test. I’d just rather not study it at all.”

The pressure coooker of No Child Left Behind and Standardized tests has put a huge burden on teachers and kids to ‘have to’ study specific things in a specific order, sacrificing natural curiosity and wonder. What I love so much about John Holt’s books and unschooling, is that it fosters an innate love of learning that every child has, values it, and protects it.

I read an article about a woman majoring in Physics, and graduating at the top of her class. She started her undergrad work in literature, but one thing led to another and she realized she loved to study the ‘language of why things work the way they do.’ Her professors were asked how she could be doing so well in her classes when she had never taken a physics (or high level math) class in her life. “The thing that stood out about her” they answered, “is that she has an enthusiasm towards learning that not a lot of other students have. She is always asking questions, always wondering, and is always the one to raise her hand to learn something new.”

What an example that is of what a powerful learning tool we have in curiosity and interest driven learning. I appreciate that in the almost 2 years we’ve been unschooling, my kids have gone from a ‘have to learn’ mentality to a ‘want to learn’ focus…and I’m learning to trust that by taking this ‘road less traveled’, it will make all the difference.