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Parenting from the Inside Out.

Being clear about what motivates our decision making is critical when raising young people to be authentic learners and seekers of their path and purpose.

Today I am thinking about onions of all things. Perhaps, because I just finished conquering said onions, taking on tonight’s dinner at this early hour. Please don’t mistake my pride for smugness; this is not a regular occurance. Picture the onion in your produce drawer or over there in the bowl on your counter, with it’s flaky skin, pungent smell, and how the waxy onion skins stick to you and flake all over the counter, never floating softly or directly into the trash can below. I wonder how you get into an onion? I have a challenging and slightly surgical way of tackling the onion, which always leaves me feeling victorious when it is executed as planned (which is only some of the time), but I will save that for another time. I digress. Surprisingly, an onion is actually in the lily family, explaining it’s destiny to release overpowering scent, albeit distinctly different ones!  But, what is most interesting to me about the onion is the stunning geometry and symmetry of its concentric rings and layers of the fruit or bulb.

There is something anticipatory and revealing about the tightly arranged layers forming the concentric rings of the onion. It’s design reminds me of the Russian nesting dolls, which were actually predated by the Chinese nesting boxes by 800 years. Like the onion, and the nesting dolls, these visually represent, for me as an educator, the fact that there is some pivotal, enduring understanding, some essential purpose of an educational learning task underlying it all. There’s always something deeper and more meaningful we are trying to do here beyond the academic content we are delivering.  In other words, it is getting at the heart of why we are doing something in the first place.

Suddenly, I see in my mind’s eye, the creation of a pearl. How it’s existence and essence is formed atop a single grain of sand, producing a lustrous pearl. Much like the layers of the onion plant or the individual layers of nacre (pronounced NAY-KER) that make up the pearl inside an oyster, children develop into who they are based on her/his experiences, influences, relationships with people and ideas in the home and community, their education, and their unique neurobiology, formed at conception and developed throughout a lifetime.  All of these experiences add valuable layers to the people they are becoming.

For parents, each of these layers can be likened to the decisions, considerations and debates which lead our kids to take myriad AP courses, enroll our kids in the best basketball camps, log as many after school commitments for the college application, and the list goes on and on. No doubt each of these experiences can add valuable layers or chapters to our children’s relatively short biography, but it’s important to ask, from where are these choices spawned?

Working with so many different groups of children, I constantly ask: What is it I want most for my students and my own teenagers? What is at the center of the onion or pearl that is the most valuable enduring understanding or underlying desire I have for the children with whom I work?  Can this, and should this, drive all learning experiences in schools? at home? in the community? Can we design these learning environments around which we can add the necessary and valuable layers of rich and experiential content, skill building, inquiry-based facilitation and integrated methodologies? Shall we design learning environments which compel our kids to ask my favorite question: “How can what it is I know, and am able to do, benefit others, my community, a cause, or the world?”

I believe I share this deeper desire with many of you parents. This quest to peel the onion, revealing what it is we really want for our children, is a most critical exercise.  Moreover, we should ensure that our behaviors and decisions directly reflect this central desire. We may find it a sticky process separating the onion layers from it’s sticky skin on our way to the center, but it is well worth the effort. It will require that we dig (or cut) deeper, setting aside the layers of “have-to’s” and “in order to’s” and ignore the “if I do this, then…’s”, whereby all we are left with is the ability to state: “This is what I want for my child. That she/he Be______.”     We will know we have arrived at the center when much of the white noise and frenzy that accompany us on this journey fall away. Parenting choices become easier. Our freshly-articulated commitment to what we really want for our children will drive our experience, and more importantly, our children’s. If we take the time to know what’s inside the onion, and can name that, it becomes much easier to stay grounded, becoming more impermeable to the destructive, frenetic pace of parenting “these days.”

Now, what’s for dinner?

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