Thursday, April 16, 2015

What's "passion" got to do with it?

Recently, a friend posted this article on facebook, "Our Push for 'Passion,' and why it harms kids" lamenting that her "10 year old has no thing he does (piano, soccer, etc)" passionately and she has "no energy to encourage him." As a proponent of passionate learning, my interest was piqued. From my experience working with kids in a self-initiated learning environment, I've rarely seen a student treat a single pursuit with the kind of obsessive focus that this article labels as 'passion.' A good thing, according to the article, which concludes that
"For most children, childhood isn't about passion, but rather about exploration. Our job as parents is to nurture that exploration, not put an end to it. When we create an expectation that children must find their one true interest so early in life, we cut short a process of discovery that may easily take a lifetime."
Agreed. Childhood is a time of exploring our world, our selves, our relationships, our abilities and more. It's a time to discover which branches on the tree are strong enough to hold us and which ones will break under our weight. A time for us to sample all of the dishes in the buffet we call life.

I disagree, however, with the assertion that 'passion' and this kind of free 'exploration' are mutually exclusive. I find the definition of passion used here, an obsessive focus on an activity or pursuit that is "deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crowd," falls short. Daily, I watch children exhibit passion in everything they do, from climbing on the playground to video-gaming to creating works of art with crayons and construction paper. Kids live life passionately, for them, exploration IS passion!

Further, if we re-frame the term passion to mean not just something we do, but a way of being, then the idea that "millions of people have lived long, happy, useful lives filled with joy and contentment and devoid of a defining passion" can be replaced with (what I feel to be) a more inspiring statement that some people are able to retain their passion for exploration, for learning, for life into adulthood. These people can find joy and happiness in a balanced life because they are passionate human beings! And, while some people find a single focus that they are able to channel their passion toward, many of us are passionate about being parents AND teachers AND friends AND explorers AND lifelong learners AND everything else we spend our lives being and doing. We can immerse ourselves in researching and writing a blog post with the same focus and joy as we can hiking or learning to play guitar or whatever. Which is ultimately what I believe this article is saying, that just because many kids (and adults) don't settle into a well-defined groove that leads them predictably through a lifetime of refining a single ability, doesn't mean there is something wrong with them, it may mean there is something very right with them! Let's call THAT passion!

By Alyssa Kay