Lay an egg. Lay an egg. Lay an egg. This must be how it feels to be a school child in America.
Do we want to raise a generation of kids that excel in following instructions to accomplish prescribed outcomes on predetermined timetables? … or do we want to raise a generation of kids that can read the landscape, assess where they are, decide what’s next, find out what they need to know, and do what they need to, in order to accomplish their objectives?
We can’t really cultivate both.
The more productivity demands we place on children, the less they are able to practice the mega-important art of defining and achieving their own objectives within their own contexts … and the more cranky they become.
Individual agency is an evolving and mutually enriching conspiracy between our aims and our actions. It’s the capacity to Decide what we want to do, and then Do what needs to be done to accomplish it in the given circumstances. Every human life strives for ever greater levels of agency from the moment of conception.
Young persons can neither experience nor cultivate agency without the explicit entitlement to make choices, register feedback, and modulate their behavior adaptively. Learning communities characterized by the obligation to reach as many externally-defined milestones as quickly as possible must fast track learners past the imperfect and unpremeditated interactions through which agency is developed.
Suboptimal conditions and unfortunate choices have to be encountered and played out. Rookie decisions made by novice humans in unexpected situations precipitate reflection and recalibration – two mental processes that drive the development of agency. The adult promoting young people’s agency is not responsible for plotting the optimal course of rapid advancement (Lay an egg. Lay an egg. Lay an egg.), but rather for providing generous space for unplanned, non-linear processes that yield hard-to-recognize and often unexpected outcomes.
The customer may want more eggs quicker, but the farmer concerned about the quality of his produce knows he must safeguard untouchable, internal “slow cooking” processes with long, patient nurturing … far in advance of any measurable, ready-to-box outputs.
Likewise, the public may demand that schools provide a continuous record of discrete and comparable outputs from children. But parents and educators who wish to foster thriving and adaptive learning cultures must find ways to safeguard children’s internal and hard-to-name processes.
Our children are diminished as able actors in the world when we fail to hold ourselves accountable for their entitlement to influence and increasingly direct their own learning pace and path.