The Closing Door

Posted on March 21, 2014


I’ve been trying to understand the deep fear that I see in so many parents, my wife and myself included, when I talk about the idea of a school that is run by the students, where the students are not forced to do anything against their will, where they can literally never attend a single class or do any homework for their entire K-12 education.

My wife and I talk about it a lot and for the most part it always seems to end with a very basic emotional response that prevents her from embracing these ideas. For a long time I was having trouble describing that emotion, but the other night I provided a theory and she said it fit very well:

She’s afraid that going to an alternative path will result in our daughters having doors closed to them.

That door may be access to a great college, a great job, etc. Frankly it’s not even clear what doors she’s afraid of, just that a different path is going to increase the likelihood that our daughters are turned away from various opportunities.

I think many parents feel this way. They wouldn’t be disappointed in their child if they didn’t get in to Harvard, they just don’t want to make it harder for them to get in to Harvard by choosing a different path. They don’t want to make it harder for their child to get a good job by allowing them to do what ever they want throughout their childhood.

As adults we have experience with doors being closed. We’ve all been rejected from some opportunity or another and there’s nothing worse than feeling like your options in life are just a bit more limited.

It’s a really difficult perspective to argue with. I think alternative paths can make it more difficult to attain certain types of success. You can talk about how hard it is to get in to Harvard regardless, or how much stress children are under trying to attain such goals that are arbitrarily scarce (your child may be perfectly qualified for Harvard, but still not get in), but at the end of the day you don’t want to make it any harder than it already is for your child to achieve success in life.

Personally I think that fear still exists for me. It’s just been over-shadowed by seeing students in a small school with no budget thriving, just completely full of life every day. I just can’t believe that jumping through hoops for 15 years is a better path than an environment where students are truly thriving.

I’m very curious to see what my daughters do with their lives, what paths they choose, etc, and I don’t think a traditional education can provide them with the autonomy necessary to follow their own path, where ever it may lead them. In the end it may be less likely that they get in to Harvard, but then again it may actually help them. Competing with millions of other students who all have great grades and great test scores and a million extra-curricular activity isn’t going to be enough to get in to an elite school. Passion and curiosity and a deep sense of self will probably be more valuable in the long run.