I recently reviewed ‘Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined‘ by Dr Scott Barry Kaufman, psychologist and researcher of creativity. I really enjoyed reading the book and chatting with Pam Laricchia, author and unschooling advocate in her Exploring Unschooling Podcast.
Problems with Labelling
So I was excited to discover a quirky and inspiring video Kaufman has made in collaboration with Disney. In it Kaufman shares the problems he experienced when he was labelled with a learning disability as a child. Kaufman was placed in Special Ed and suffered as a result of being limited by an inflexible education system and a learning disability label which negatively coloured the perceptions of those around him.
It was only when an insightful teacher reached out to him and recognised his desire and potential to learn about the world around him that Scott was able to resist and ultimately reject the learning disability label that had constrained him. At last he was free to purse his passions and go on to become a research psychologist and a scientific director of The Imagination Institute.
“Everyone is capable of creativity; they key is finding the thing that will let them shine the most”
In the video Kaufman shares his belief that creativity belongs to everyone. “Creativity” he says “is something that we carry with us everywhere we go”. Kaufman believes strongly that “Everyone is capable of creativity; the key is finding the thing that will let them shine the most”. Kaufman’s story reminds us that labels can get in the way of seeing our children’s unique strengths and creativity. Whether learning at home or at school labels may prevent children from realising their dreams as they filter and shape our expectations of what is possible and what it means to be human (see Reading Rosie: Runswick-Cole and Dan Goodley, (2012) (Rethinking Autism: Runswick-Cole et al, 2016).
Valuing Interests and Passions
Pursuing our dreams is something that makes life meaningful. Children need us to believe in them and to take their interests and passions seriously so that they can follow their dreams and lead joyful and fulfilled lives in the here and now. Valuing our children for who they are involves valuing their interests and passions as these can form an important part of their identity and emotional well being. According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self Determination Theory (SDT) activities which are intrinsically motivating (which interests and passions usually are) may also fulfil our basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness. Helping children to achieve their goals can inspire them and deepen our relationships.
Helping children to achieve their goals can inspire them and deepen our relationships
In Ungifted Kaufman shares the work of Mary Ann Winters-Messiers and her research team. Winters-Messiers research reveals the transformatory potential that valuing children’s interests can have on their sense of self and on their well being. When the children in the study (who had been labelled with Aspergers) were asked to talk about their interests and passions, Messiers found that the children who often felt negatively about themselves reported feeling much more positively. The children became noticeably animated, engaged with the researchers and enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about what they loved. Many of the issues that the children struggled with in their daily lives seemed to fall away and lose their significance. The children in the study said that sadly they often felt that their interests were not valued and they longed for an opportunity to share them with others.
By valuing our children and their interests we enable them to tell new and diverse stories about themselves and we open up new possibilities and ways of being. By nurturing and valuing children’s interests, passions and dreams we also invite them to experience themselves more fully as knowledgeable, competent and engaged not only in relation to themselves but in relation to others.
By valuing our children and their interests we enable them to tell new and diverse stories about themselves and we open up new possibilities and ways of being
Kaufman has also been inspired by the work of the creativity researcher E. Paul Torrance. Torrance found that one of the best predictors of life long creativity is the extent to which a child falls in love with a dream. Torrance writes in ‘The Importance of Falling in Love with Something‘
“To dream and to plan, to be curious about the future and to wonder how much it can be influenced by our efforts are important aspects of our being human.”
Because Torrance recognised the life long transformatory potential of children engaging in their interests and passions he wrote the ‘Manifesto for Children’.
Unschooling: Interests, Passions and Dreams
Unschooling is an approach to living and learning that specifically focuses on nurturing children’s interests and passions, helping them to pursue their dreams. Unschoolers recognise that children are intrinsically motivated to learn about the world through engaging in their interests and passions in deep and meaningful ways.
In ‘Unschooling Passions‘ Pam Laricchia, explores the integral role that passions and interests have played in her children’s lives and in the learning process. You can read more about Pam’s daughter Lissy Laricchia and how her childhood interests and experience of unschooling enabled her to follow her dream of working as a photographer in New York City in the article ‘From Harry Potter to Living the Dream‘.
Lissy became interested in photography around the age of 14. She took photos and explored pictures in magazines, books, and online. She started her first self-portrait 365 project on Flickr when she was 15, spending hours each day working until she had a photo she was happy with. It was an incredible learning experience, and she received lots of encouraging feedback.
Peter Gray and Gina Riley’s research with grown unschoolers found that the majority of the grown unschoolers they interviewed had gone on to have meaningful careers that were a direct extension of their childhood interests and passions. Grown unschoolers had valued the time unschooling had given them to be able to pursue their interests and many felt that it had increased their self-motivation, creativity and continued learning. A 23 year old always unschooled woman in the study who was at the time earning her living by teaching drama, running and education programme for school group at a museum and helping to run an after-school program said:
“I am already doing the things I love and plan on continuing to live my dreams for the rest of my life. I hope to do many more exciting things in my life, but I do not think of them as ‘careers’. They are natural parts of my life – as natural and inseparable as learning.”
Writing and articles by Dr. Emma Marie Forde, DClinPsych – Parent, Clinical Psychologist and Unschooling Advocate.