Today I’m excited to share with you a conversation with my son, Jonathan Elmore. Jonathan is a recent college graduate of Biola University, located just outside of Los Angeles. Now, he has shifted into a full-time career back in Georgia. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Tim Elmore: I’ve observed a growing phenomenon for a while now. It seems like I’m seeing more and more of the extinction of childlikeness in young children—meaning the loss of wonder, innocence and trust—but then there is also the extension of childishness—the avoidance of responsibility and self regulation. Jonathan, is it just my age or do you see both of those realities going on?
Jonathan Elmore: Absolutely. I think I even recognize childlikeness and childishness in my life at almost all times, but I think giving a little bit of context about me would be helpful. I grew up as a shy and sensitive kid. You and Mom were so great to allow me to have margin, which was hard to have with technology and social media. You allowed me to experiment with things that I was interested in. And it allowed a lot of creative space for me to find out something about me, which I didn’t know earlier. One little quirk about me was that I watched Disney movies constantly when I was a kid. Usually kids stop watching them when they’re 11 or 12, but I continued to watch them. But I was doing it in a way that was authentic to me: I was watching it as a 13-year-old Jonathan. Then later, when I was watching it in high school, I was interpreting the messages differently. I think I remember having a conversation in the basement with you where you were like, “You might be inadvertently protecting your innocence, just by watching these movies.” So that was the kind of childlikeness I experienced growing up, and the childishness aspect was diminished when I was out on my own and getting to stretch my legs. There were definitely times where I was just wanting to hold onto my boyhood and maybe my immature side.
Tim: I remember Dr. Tony Campolo (a sociologist) said something years ago that I’ve never forgotten, “I don’t think we live in a generation of bad kids, I think we live in a generation of kids who know too much too soon.” So let me really quickly define what childlike means, because I think there is a difference between childlike and childish. I think maturation means we grow out of childishness, but we never lose our childlikeness. So for me, a definition of childlike means there is still a sense of innocence. I still trust people, not naively, but I’m going to believe the best about people—choosing to trust them.
Tim: Maya Angelou also wrote something very interesting regarding a child’s development. She said, “We are all creative, but by the time we are 3 or 4 years old, someone has knocked the creativity out of us. Some people shut up kids who start to tell stories. Kids dance in their cribs, but someone will insist they sit still. By the time the creative people are 10 or 12, they just want to be like everyone else.” That, unfortunately, is the story of today’s educational system. And I love educators, and so do you, but I want to talk for just a minute about some of the stuff you’ve read recently about convergent thinking, divergent thinking and how schools today seem to knock the divergent thinking out of the curriculum.
Jonathan: I’ve been reading the book The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus and towards the end of his book he talks about these two different terms—divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is “when you think outside of the box.” You’re solving problems and it’s you trying to find the answer through your own creative ingenuity—and not through a list of terms in a book. Convergent thinking is just following through inside the lines—painting “inside the box.” Maybe what we’re finding out is that children are born 95% divergent thinkers. They think outside of the box; there are no set rules for them. They can explore and be curious to solve problems in the world. But our educational systems are built for convergent thinking. We download information. There is a list of facts and figures when you take a test; you’re circling the right answer and there is only one right answer. You don’t solve problems; it’s very, tactical in that way. The education system flips that ratio. After kids get out of high school, it is no longer 95% divergent thinking. The ratio shifts to 95% convergent thinking and 5% divergent thinking.
Tim: So, we talked to employers recently who want to hire newly minted college graduates and they say, “I don’t see any creativity!” Well, the educational system has knocked it out of them like Maya Angelou said. We don’t have to lose our childlikeness, but we do need to lose our childishness.
Educators for decades now have measured growth in four categories: cognitive growth, biological growth, social growth, and emotional growth. Kids today, as we look at the numbers, are cognitive and biologically advanced, but they’re often socially and emotionally behind. There is a term that is kind of a hot button in education right now called “social-emotional learning.” We’ve got to find ways beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic to grow these kids, so they’re not childish when they’re 28, or 29. Young adults need to be ready to get married, or ready to play a role as a responsible citizen in our communities.
I hope you take time during your commute to listen to the whole conversation. Click below to listen to the full discussion.
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