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Vignette 20/52. Challenged.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
― Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder

I would like to share some negative feedback about our learning center:

“My child is very happy at Casa Morpho but they need more challenges.”

“My child is bored because there is not enough academic work.”

I share because this is a challenge and an interesting thing for me to understand; to understand this intersection between challenge, happiness, and boredom.

When is it the right time to introduce more challenges and I think it has to do with this question: who should be asking for it?

My daughter Frankie did not read a word until she was nine years old. She spent her days at a creek with friends and playing dress-up and pretend with her imaginary animals. She created personas and asked me every day, “Mama, I wonder where my feet will take me today.”

Today she is 15 years old.

Earlier this year, my daughter Frankie wanted to quit my class (or fire me depending on one’s perspective) and focus on her college courses she had signed up for online.

I asked her why and she told me they weren’t challenging enough and it was frustrating that the other students in her class weren’t trying to learn more or even finish their homework and gasp she was bored.

I leaned in and listened.

I took her concerns seriously and for the next block, we covered a very broad and universal topic: Complex Adaptive Systems. Each student had to design their project. Frankie loves history, literature, and the humanities, and she was very interested in the development of the complex systems of cities. But I knew this wouldn’t be “challenging” for her. I suggested that she look at the body – structure, physiology, and evolutionary biology.

She told me she didn’t want to do it and I reminded her about wanting to be “challenged.” I officially threw down the gauntlet. (Did I say she also loves Medieval references?) I reminded her that it was her responsibility now to find the interesting slant, to see the connection, and to dig.

Accepting the challenge meant she was open to the opportunity to grow and learn something new.

She handed in one of her most thought-provoking and inquisitive projects. She looked at the human body’s functional relationships and the concept of system optimization through the lens of evolutionary biology and physics.

Around this time of the initial project design, just at the moment she was getting frustrated with the dry subject matter, she found a used book, The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life by Richard Dawkins, on evolutionary biology for sale in our local cafe/secondhand book shop.

She called out to me if I knew this writer. I tried my best to contain my excitement and my awe at the universe making a love match. The synchronicity. This book is what Frankie needs.

I told her nonchalantly, “Yes I like his writing. Read a little and tell me what you think.”

She opened to the table of contents and her eyes lit up.

“Mom, the title of the first section is _The Conceit of Hindsight. _I’m definitely interested.”

I said, “I think that this is a ‘science’ book Frankie. He is writing about evolutionary biology.”

She read out loud from a section called The General Prologue,

How shall we know the past, and how date it? What aids to our vision will help us peer into theatres of ancient life and reconstruct the scenes and the players, their exits and their entrances, of long ago?

“Mama, we have to buy this. It’s a history book! The history of life! I have an idea for my project!!!”

What if I never let her play for most of her childhood? Would she approach learning with the same autonomy and voraciousness? Would she have the same enthusiasm m and excitement for challenges as an adolescent?

And with that, she dives deep into her own evolution, growing out of old patterns and finding new perspectives – all because she took responsibility for her learning and asking for help when she needed it.

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