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Declaration of Dependence

“I want my child to be an independent learner.”

While this sounds like an admirable goal, perhaps it’s time we rethink this. To the frustrated parent of the 12 year old, the one who – once again- forgot the homework and didn’t complete the assignment – please hear me when I say that what this child does not need is more independence. He needs an encouraging hand, someone to hold him accountable. In my parent conference today I urged this mom to sit down with her son at least three times per week. Once to schedule the new homework, once to have a quality check to make sure it was completed, and once to make sure the work is actually in the backpack before Monday morning. I assured her that she wouldn’t need to do this level of monitoring forever, but not to be surprised if it takes a few months before it sinks in. We want to “inspect what we expect”, but we can’t do that if our student is off floundering in the deep end. Dependence in this case is a lifesaver.

Independence is just as overrated when it comes to the learning process itself. If I have to learn differential equations, you can bet that I’ll be setting up a study group, finding a tutor, and locating some extra help in the form of You Tube videos and websites. Secluding myself in a room with just a textbook is a one-way trip to frustration and failure. And I’m a grown-up! But how often do we expect our children and students to figure things out on their own? As parents who know the value of living in relationships, as Christians who belong to the body of Christ, and as educators who can appreciate the value of shared effort, let’s remember that learning can happen beautifully in a community. When I see my COA students firing ideas at a fast and furious pace, I know they are thinking and spurring one another on. When one gets stuck and the others jump in with ideas, our learning advances but so does the sense of unity and friendship. The experience of learning can strengthen those bonds. Let’s not be so hasty to remove them for the sake of “independent learning.”

In addition to parents working with their child and students working with one another, consider the interdependence of an apprentice and mentor. When we have the opportunity to work with someone over a period of years, that relationship grows until we see our “baby bird” leave the nest and take flight. It’s a bittersweet moment to realize that they are on their own, using their skills, and in turn making the world a better place. Joy unspeakable. You can depend on it.

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