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Fitting the Education to the Child continued..... - Livin' the Good Life

Feb. 15th, 2009

07:04 pm - Fitting the Education to the Child continued.....

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And next comes Damian. Damian’s education is hard to describe, so this will probably be long. You might want to get yourself a cup of tea! I tried to follow Damian’s lead from the beginning, feeling pretty self-confident after my experiences with his older brothers. By that time we were living in the desert, and the educational options here were pretty slim. Our choices were either public school or homeschooling. We didn’t have Montessori schools, Waldorf schools, or “free schools” to choose from, and frankly, we couldn’t have afforded them if we had. (We did have a couple of Christian schools, but I didn't like them.) However, I didn’t anticipate any problems, and I looked forward to the adventure of discovering what was best for Damian.
Nathen and Ely were remarkably compliant children and didn’t seem to have a problem with authority. Then along comes Damian who, from very early on, displayed a huge will. His style was to PUSH! However, it is virtually impossible to push me, so we had quite a back and forth dynamic going on throughout his childhood. I had a great respect and admiration for Damian’s essential nature. I loved his spunk and enthusiasm! I had never come across such determination in a child. However, he often had huge and impractical ideas that no child could carry out on their own, and he began to push the adults around him for help. Enter Grandpa Bob.
My dad took a delighted interest in Damian, and whatever Damian wanted to do, my dad tried to help him carry it out. It was a joy to watch them together! Dad and Damian spent many hours and days out in the workshop creating signs, fixing things, and basically acquiring both artistic and building skills. Dad was very exacting about how to do things and would never accept shoddy work. Some days he just took Damian off in his truck on adventures. They planned to “see what they could see” and go wherever the wind blew them. It was always, “Hey, look at that! Let’s go look!” Sometimes they took off for days, and in some cases, weeks! They were quite a pair. Grandpa Bob always took Damian’s lead, which suited Damian just fine. They studied languages together, which Damian had a particular fascination and aptitude for. (Damian later became fluent in Spanish.) Since Dad was a world traveler, as well as a “walking encyclopedia”, they spent a lot of time sitting around the globe with Dad telling Damian stories of his adventures around the world as a pilot during WWII, giving him the history of different countries, and generally sharing his vast knowledge on any and all subjects. Grandpa Bob had a strong sentimental interest in old movies. He clearly enjoyed sharing that interest with Damian. Almost every night, at one point, Damian could be found out in G.B.’s trailer with him watching and discussing some old classic movie.
Damian’s strong will continued to drive him. In his teen years, Damian wanted to replace his favorite pair of jeans, but couldn’t find any to his liking. So he decided to make them himself. He borrowed my sewing machine, figured out how to work it, took apart his old pair of jeans, and recreated them. It was simply amazing. He spent all day and several nights working on them. They had buttons and bottonholes, pockets, belt loops, a zipper, contrasting, decorative-stitching… the works! We were all so impressed with the outcome that Grandpa Bob went out and bought him a heavy-duty sewing machine so he could make more jeans. This was an example of Damian’s determination and how he lived his life. He went “whole hog” into everything that interested him, to the exclusion of other things. That was just his style. (And it is a style that doesn’t work in public school, where subjects are dictated by the adults, and learning is limited to short blocks of time separated by the ringing of bells.)
MY main contribution to Damian’s education was reading to him. I read nightly to all the boys, and over the years we read many of the classic children’s books. Damian acquired a strong love of reading through those sessions. Since we had no TV, a decision that Steve and I made as “best for the kids”, those nightly reading sessions were very important to the kids, and I loved them too. Damian and I also connected well with singing. I discovered that he had a clear and beautiful singing voice from the time he was a toddler. He seemed to have nearly perfect pitch. He picked up singing in harmony very easily, and since I love to sing harmony myself, I taught him lots of harmony parts. He seemed to really enjoy doing that and was always willing to harmonize with me. We eventually made a tape of he and I and his brother Gabe demonstrating how to sing in harmony, and we still sell those recordings today on the Lester Family website. Damian’s voice was the most clear and solid in the family, and I relied heavily on it to guide us when we all sang together.
By the time Damian was about 7 ---I know I’m skipping around. Bear with me--- he wanted to try public school. He was curious about the potential of a social life beyond the family, and it just sounded like an attractive experience to him. After one year of second grade, though, he was ready to come back to homeschooling. He did fine academically, but he didn’t like the teacher directing his day and his interests. He really needed to be his own boss. This pattern of going in and out of school continued throughout his childhood and adolescence. He kept thinking he was missing something by not being in school, and then he would quickly determine that he was mistaken and want to come back home where he had more freedom. At one point, in his teen years, he decided that traveling was the answer to his restlessness and dissatisfaction. We sent him alone on the train for a tour of the west coast (and later across Canada), stopping to stay for extended periods with friends and relatives along the way. He spent an entire high school year doing that, and when he returned to school the following year, he was amazed and slightly disgusted that the kids were learning the exact same things they had been learning when he left. He felt like he hadn’t missed a thing! He did enjoy being a part of the wrestling program and the band program at school. But, for the most part, school didn’t seem to suit Damian. I think that was rough for him, because he very much liked the idea of having lots of friends and doing what other kids did, but the reality of it never quite measured up for him. I frequently used to think, “Damian will be so much happier as an adult”.
I was right. Damian is MUCH happier as an adult! After he got over the “I should be trying to be like other kids” phase and actually developed the ability and know-how to direct and live an independent life, he really started blossoming. As an adult he became extremely focused. Like when he was a child, he concentrates all his energies on whatever he is interested in to the exclusion of everything else. At age 30 he is in college and is really excited about it! He loves the studying, the learning, the class-time, the testing… everything. And he is a top student. It’s really amazing to see someone who truly follows his own inner guidance, timetable, and direction in life. I’ve never seen such a pure example of an uncompromising life. He is married and has an exemplary relationship with outstanding communication. (It helps, of course, that he picked an amazing woman to marry! Half of the success of the marriage goes to you, Maya!) He has become highly-proficient at playing the bass, having put in countless hours of daily practice on his instrument for years. Music brings him the greatest joy! He went on a European tour with a popular band a few years ago, and he hopes to have more experiences like that in his future. Combining music with traveling to foreign countries is a dream come true for him. He is very health and fitness conscious. He has developed a strong and meaningful spiritual life. I think most everyone would agree that Damian “has it together” in his life and is most worthy of respect and admiration. His unconventional education really did seem to work for him in the long run, though I’m sure we all, including him, wondered at times. His was definitely not an ordinary childhood, and it was interesting watching him take the roundabout way to adulthood while staying true to his dear, authentic self.