March 14, 2013

Path to Purpose


2nd graders at Friends'
Our Director of the Elementary School, Diane Bramble, is the curious type. She embodies lifelong learning.  When I am in her classroom, I marvel at the questions she asks children, challenging their thinking and encouraging them to ‘grow their brains’. I also admire the ways she questions adults too.  There’s one question I’ve heard her throw out to adults on several occasions that always elicits fascinating results. It’s a great conversation starter.

Simply, “What are you reading right now?” 

In the past weeks I’ve devoured Through My Eyes, a memoir by Friends’ School’s former Teacher Preparation Program Director John Paull, and Great By Choice, the latest book by Boulder’s Jim Collins on organizational leadership. But the book I’m talking about most is William Damon’s Path To Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling In Life.

Bill Damon is the author of 18 books and a leading scholar of human development. He is a Professor of Education at Stanford University. I recently had the opportunity to hear him speak at Kent Denver School. I was intrigued by what he had to say which lead me to his book.

He started his talk with a note of sympathy to parents: how much sage advice can we give to our kids? The world is changing so fast that good advice from even ten years ago is becoming less relevant: get a college degree, choose a good career, become perhaps a journalist or a lawyer, rise through the ranks, settle down, stick with it for decades…. Little of this advice is particularly applicable in 2013.

We’ve all heard the statistics that somewhere between 60% and 80% of jobs, that our preschool and elementary students will have in the future, don’t even exist yet. Colleges are changing so fast, with online and global learning, that our kids won’t spend nearly as much time on campus as we did. The world is a different place.

The media is full of stories of how young people today are struggling to find a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. In his book, Damon describes purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.”

The Path To Purpose presents research which shows that about one fifth of American teenagers today are thriving. These kids are are highly engaged in activities they love and they are developing a clear sense of what they want to do with their lives. The book contains wonderful stories of kids who have found their purpose, such as the 12-year-old boy who, in six years, raised enough money to build 319 drinking wells in 14 different countries. He was inspired in first grade after learning that children in Africa were dying for lack of clean water. He raised his first $70 on his own by doing chores around the house. When he learned this wasn’t enough to build a new well, he didn’t get discouraged; instead, he redoubled his efforts by seeking donations from the people around him, including building a website to further his project.

Yet approximately one fourth of teens today are aimless, at serious risk of never fulfilling their potential. The largest portion are teetering on the brink, in need of guidance to help them move forward.

How can we, as their parents, support them?

Damon encourages us to embrace our children’s interests, to express confidence in what our children are trying to do, and to introduce our kids to adults and activities outside the home who might trigger sparks of interest.

We need to talk more about the things that inspire us. As parents, we cannot accomplish the task of identifying a purpose for a child, nor can we write a script for our children’s lives, but we can introduce options and help our kids sort through choices.

Damon urges us to steer clear of what he calls “short-horizon thinking,” the kind of mentality from which we encourage kids to pursue short term victories at the expense of enduring aspirations.

Instead, he suggests that we cultivate an environment that fires children’s imaginations, that encourages their higher aspirations, and that instills in young people the confidence to pursue a life of purpose.

This is something that Diane and all our teachers at Friends’ do every day.  If you visit our Alumni Association Facebook page, you will read stories of dozens of Friends’ School alumni who have found their purpose and are making a difference in the world.  Most of them spent a couple of years in Diane’s class. 

Many of these same alumni came back to Friends’ School last weekend to share their stories for a film we’re making for our 25th Anniversary. We are in full production right now and we plan on showing it to you at our school Auction on April 20th.

We’re proud of the meaningful work we do with children every day and we’re thankful for the parents at our school who lead inspired lives and model lives of purpose. 

1 comment:

John Paull said...

And, you, SDB, are a master with the pen.....