How many times have you been asked, “What do you want to be?”
How many people have you asked that have actually known? Maybe you found a (lucky?) few who have had it all figured out from the time they could make the jump from, “I want apple!” to “I want to be a doctor!” but I’d bet you can count them on less than one hand.
I learned a lot about myself yesterday visiting the WING school for the second time. Tanoue-sensei, one of the most effective and thoughtful teachers I have ever met, is creating a new school: the WING school – Wisdom, Interest, Network, Good. Many of the ideas fit the Finnish education model, which includes no homework, a lot of free creative learning time, project-based education, and far fewer restrictions than we conventionally imagine in schools.
This question arose at the seminar featuring Tanoue-sensei and Yohsuke Takasaka (Taka-san), an expert in Finnish education who has gone back and forth between Japan and Finland to study the stark contrast between the systems.
We have time for one question…
They had time at the end for just a single question, which came from a concerned mother (loosely translated): “I’m concerned about my son’s interest in video games. Should I be concerned? How do I get him to focus on his studies?” Their response invited reflection from everyone in the room.
Mr. Tanoue first said his son used to play a lot of video games too. Then something changed. What was it?
They got a dog. Now he wakes up early to enjoy the company of their pet. Maybe her son simply needs something else that is enjoyable.
He then told a brief story (translated so not a direct quote):
I once asked one of my students what she enjoyed doing. She said she loved singing and wanted to be a singer. I then asked her, “Why do you love singing?” She thought quietly for a moment, and then it hit her. “I used to sing for my grandparents when I was younger and it always made them happy!”
“Ah, so you enjoy doing things that make other people happy?”
She looked at me curiously. “Hmm, I guess so,” she replied.
Sometimes it isn’t so much about what you love doing as why you love doing it.
Taka-san picked it up from there, with his own spin. He enjoyed playing piano and re-arranging tunes because he enjoyed the process of having his mother listen and give him feedback. He enjoyed role-playing games because he loved the performance and working off the energy of others around him. Now look where he is – standing in front of a room of 80+ people teaching them about his self-initiated research.
Perhaps the video games are not a problem. What kinds of games he enjoys could be indicative of what other things he might like. Does he like playing by himself and reaching new levels of achievement? Does he like playing with others and beating out the competition? Does he like cooperative games where he plays on a team with others to defeat an enemy? What do these things say about him? How could that interest help him learn?
How do we figure this out about ourselves?
How could we possibly figure this out without having the time to do it? Taka-san had the time to play the piano and play with arranging his own tunes. He had time to play games and be creative. He also had someone who was willing to listen to him, and others who were able to play with him. What of students who have their days completely structured with no free time? What of students who don’t have anyone around them with free time to communicate with them, play with them, give them feedback, and offer new possibilities?
This is a major strength of the Finnish education system – students need free time. They need to play. They need to figure out what works for them and why they like the things they do.
If you think you’ve got yourself all neatly pinned down and a straight and narrow career path ahead of you, I applaud you. For the rest of us… let’s keep playing and discovering!