Plays Well With Others

Here is a bad thing we do to kids: we issue a piece of paper to their parents every few months for their entire childhood telling the parents how well the kid memorized state capitals. In the footnotes of that paper, if they’ve been exceptionally kind, we give this throwaway line: “plays well with others,” which does not matter at all to the evaluation metrics being levied against this kid.

Being able to play well with others is about a thousand times more important than anything else that happens in school.

Here’s another bad thing we do to kids: we answer their questions. When a kid asks a question, we should do everything in our power to teach them how to be finding and verifying new information themselves, rather than training them to rely on authority figures to spell it out for them. Even something as simple as “Where is the bathroom?” should (outside of emergency situations, of course!) be met with something like “Let’s walk out into the hallway and look around. Look for landmarks – things that stand out – so you can find your way back. Then, let’s start looking at the different signs so you can see what they mean. Who here knows what things might be on the sign for a bathroom?”

Being able to find the bathroom when you don’t know where it is might be a pretty essential skill, don’t you think?

Here’s yet another bad thing we do to kids: we force them to be wasteful. The concept of “child labor” is nearly hilarious to me. People will tell you with a straight face that child labor is a terrible thing, but they’ll force kids to work 8 hours a day, five days a week from age 4 to age 18. They’ll do this even though the kids hate it, even though there’s an enormous amount of evidence that the majority of those kids are wasting the majority of that time. They’ll do it even though it has a massive cost to society. But if you suggest that a fourteen-year-old might actually learn something valuable by ringing a cash register for 6 hours a week, they’ll string you up.

Being able to work when it’s valuable and play when that’s valuable is pretty much the core happiness formula.

If you get the opportunity to move the needle on any of these things – however slightly – don’t stay silent. Your kids will thank you. So will mine.

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