PSCS eNewsletter November 2017

Unpacking Passion

with Andy Smallman

A week ago, an energetic group of PSCS parents met with me for the first of three meetings I’m hosting for current parents this year, what we’re calling the Parent Education Series. We started doing this two years ago in response to parents hoping to have more opportunities to consider the school’s philosophy and practice with me. The structure I chose is one I remember Eleanor Siegl, the founder of The Little School, using — pick a theme and invite parents the opportunity to consider it through a more formal presentation made by the school founder and director.
For this first session, I chose to take time to thoroughly explain the school’s mission, “To turn passion into achievement,” focusing, of course, on the words “passion” and “achievement.” Given the productive discussion that took place and the positive feedback I received afterwards, I am attempting to provide a small version of the talk in the next two school eNewsletters. Today, I’ll focus on the passion part.
I define passion as the spot where the things we love to do and the things we are good at meet. Think of it this way: Strong Interest in Something + Talent for it = Passion. Most of us think of passion as simply the “strong interest” part of the equation. But strong interest is simply that, it’s not by itself a passion. Think about this for yourself, what do you love to do but aren’t necessarily very good at? For me, music and cooking come to mind. I love to both and find a lot of enjoyment in them. But I don’t consider myself very good at either of them, meaning that for my definition they don’t meet the criteria of being a personal passion.
I think this is useful for humans to consider. To live a meaningful life, I want to spend as much time as I can doing things I love doing, especially those that I am good at. I get that from working in respectful settings with people, especially young people. As such, I am fortunate in that I get paid to pursue one of my passions. It has taken a lot of work, though, to make that happen. To put it bluntly, I had to create a school. So please don’t get the idea that pursuing a passion is easy.
As it pertains to helping young people identify a passion, I start by suggesting the use of the word passion be minimized. Instead, help young people identify things they like doing or are interested in doing. Expose them to a variety of people doing interesting things. Similarly, surround them with people who are good at things, who can demonstrate talent. Assuming that (which requires ongoing effort), you also need to provide young people time to explore those things they are drawn to. It’s really important they get to explore and question an interest. This time will allow them to determine how deep their interest is AND whether or not they have a talent for it. Speaking of the talent part, developing talent takes time and practice, as well as persistence.
I told parents at the meeting that most of them likely did these things when their children were young, prior to them entering school. As such, I think there is something natural about it, so much so that when we’re in environments that support this kind of exploration we relax and feel good. Of importance, most mainstream schools are not set up this way. In fact, most mainstream schools are not set up this way to the extent that through the use of homework and testing mania it extends to the home. PSCS is a very deliberate attempt to provide young people the time to identify interests and talents, while not putting obstacles in their way.