I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for children who break the rules. I’m not talking about defiant kids. Or ones that just want to call attention to themselves. Or ones that break the rules simply because they can.
I have an affinity for children who break the rules because they simply have something much more interesting and important they want to do than what they have been told to do.
These are hard kids to raise and hard kids to teach. But, oftentimes, they turn into very successful adults.
Did you hear about the five-year-old Kentucky girl who walked away from her kindergarten class on the first day of school this year? She was found more than a mile away from her school, strolling down the sidewalk in front of the Wayne County Courthouse. When a police officer asked the child why she left school, she said, “because I was bored.”
This child wasn’t trying to make a statement, defy her teacher or parents, or scare an entire county. She simply wasn’t interested in wasting her day. This kind of thinking reminds me of a little girl who lived in our old neighborhood. For the first two weeks of kindergarten she snuck into the school cafeteria so she could eat with the low-income children receiving free breakfast. When her mother asked her why she did it, she said “because I was hungry.”
Last year I was teaching a line dance class at our homeschool co-op and noticed a boy I didn’t recognize dancing in the back row. I asked him what class he was supposed to be in, and he told me he was enrolled in a science class. When I asked him why he was in my class that day instead of science, he said, “because I like dancing a lot more than I like science.”
On the one hand you want to strangle these kinds of kids. But, on the other hand, there’s something about their initiative, cleverness, and good sense that’s impressive. These kids march to their own drummers, manage their own lives, and find the world around them so immensely interesting a set of rules couldn’t possibly contain them.
Now, I fully understand that children need to learn to follow rules and do things they don’t always want to do. I get that. But it bears pointing out that rule breakers sometimes have more “going on” that compliant children who never challenge or question the status quo.
Penelope Trunk, an unschooling mom who writes a popular education blog, makes a good point about following rules. She says: “When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum at my house, invariably people ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like. Here’s what I think: How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”
I think Penelope has a point. Our world has lots of compliant people who sleepwalk through life. It’s like they’ve been conditioned (probably at school and at home) to be content doing things they don’t like or enjoy. They never make a bold move. They never do anything truly wonderful. They don’t even do the things they really want to do.
Because I have two internationally- adopted children I often have people say this to me: “I always wanted to adopt, but I never did.”
Because I homeschool I also have people say to me, “I admire you for homeschooling. I wish I could do it.”
My husband and sons recently took a week to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I always wanted to do that, but never did.”
These kinds of responses make me want to scream out: “YOU CAN! YOU CAN! YOU CAN!”
I think people get so comfortable with the routine and used to the mundane that they work harder to find happiness within their mediocre circumstances than to actually change the circumstances. Just as the little girl in Wayne County took a look around her kindergarten class and said “there’s got to be something better than this,” we need to look around our own lives and wonder the same thing. The spirit it takes to make a change and forge a new path needs to be encouraged and embraced in both children and adults.
Schools are the worst place to foster a spirit of independence and urgency in children. Because they are institutions serving large numbers of people, they must be rule-laden and rule-enforced. Children who think for themselves need not apply.
For the past 10 years I’ve been part of the leadership of a large homeschool group for high school students. This experience has given me some perspective beyond my own children.
Here’s what I see: The children who give us the most trouble as high school students are often the most impressive as they grow older. These “troublemakers” are not defiant students (we rarely have those), or mean students (we never have those) or lazy students (OK, we probably have a few of those), but I’m talking about students who politely decline to follow the rules because there is something much more interesting to do than what someone else has planned for that moment.
I’m thinking about the students who spend more time talking to their neighbors than listening to their teachers. Or the ones who are late to class because they can’t pull themselves away from their friends. Or the ones who skip out because they missed lunch and McDonalds is just down the road. I’m even thinking about the student who lit a fire in his desk (and all the boys who egged him on) because watching a fire burn seemed more fun than participating in a class discussion. These kids must be addressed and disciplined, but they should be treated with respect. Because this year’s fire starter is next year’s Bill Gates (he was once arrested), or Ted Turner (he was expelled), or Steve Jobs (who occupied himself in school by getting in trouble.)
“I was kind of bored for the first few years (in school), so I occupied myself by getting into trouble.” Jobs once said. “They (school leaders) really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”
In the past decade, there have been a multitude of studies done on successful entrepreneurs, those people who earn at least 70 percent more than the average worker. Three different studies (from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research.) found four commonalities among successful entrepreneurs. The first three were not surprising. Successful entrepreneurs are 1) smart, 2) confident, and 3) have been raised in middle-upper class, two-parent homes.
Guess what the fourth commonality is? Successful entrepreneurs tend to engage in aggressive, illicit, and/or risky behaviors when they are young.
So the next time you catch your child breaking a rule or causing trouble, don’t be alarmed. Ruminate on this quote from Steve Jobs instead:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Stephen Jobs
Until next time…Be fearless.