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Choosing

Many years ago, when I was getting ready to put my six-year-old son Peter to bed, I noticed that there was a two-hour TV show that I wanted to watch, which I would miss because of his bedtime. I irresponsibly said, “Peter, would you like to stay up late and watch TV with me? Or would you like me to read you a story and put you to bed?”
He said, “Dad, what would be the smart thing to do?”

Maximizing free and informed choice has always been top of my list of important variables in creating a learning community both at home and at school. But what choices by whom and when? These are dynamic questions; the answers differ from child to child and change with time. Parents and teachers must be vigilant to make good decisions about when a child is ready to make a decision. And now Sheena Iyengar makes us look at this set of issues in a whole new way.

What do you think?
I still stand by the thought that the difference between a character-building challenge and distress is not the difficulty of the task, but whether it was chosen or imposed.  But Sheena should get us thinking.
Once not so long ago and not that far away Susan (I have known many such Susans) was going through the challenging process of choosing a high school. Her family’s assumption that the choice of high school is ultimately the child’s choice was congruent with the tenor of the time and of her society. Susan visited several schools, applied on her own to five schools and decided that New Age School was her first choice. Come the ides of March she was accepted at all five. Easy choice coming up, right?
Not so fast. The day the acceptances came out her school counselor said, “Well, you know, at New Age they don’t give grades, and at Excelcior they do. You seem to be motivated by grades. Maybe Excelcior would be a better choice.”
Susan suffered more that week than I have seen her suffer before or since. She cried every day at lease once. She didn’t say: “Look you guys, this is ridiculous. How in the world is my fourteen-year-old self supposed to know which high school would be the best for me? You all have thirty or more years on me, each, and if you were to have a meeting about this there would be over a hundred years of well-informed collective experience compared to my one or two years of informed experience. Why in the world are you asking me what I want to do?”
She didn’t ask that question, and we all kept it to ourselves. Susan cried, talked to her parents (although more descriptive language might be “bounced her emotions off them”), and cried some more. On the last day she made her decision: New Age. Why? Because it was closer. Both schools resonated with different parts of her she said.
What decisions should children make and what are the choices we adults should make? How do we share decisions making? What are all the ways that authority can be shared?

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