12/09/2012 05:33 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2013

Start Off As a Builder of Fires

Watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

When my son was in the fourth grade, his class did a short version of Romeo and Juliet. I don't know why that play was decided on for the fourth grade, but I believe his teacher was a romantic and liked the idea of little kids acting out this play of love and glory. Steve was chosen for Romeo because he loved acting, and he had already demonstrated his willingness to talk out loud in class and to climb onto furniture while doing it. Surely, he could play Romeo. I wasn't one of those parents who visited the classroom regularly. But this I couldn't miss. The class laughed during most of the play, but when he leaned forward and said to the beautiful girl with her black braids, "Oh, that I were the glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek," kids literally fell off their chairs.

There was a Q and A afterward. Students' hands shot up. "Why were they getting married before college? What were the parents fighting about in the first place? Was Juliet special ed and that's why she had a nurse at home? Did this play happen somewhere cold so they needed gloves and mittens? Are they really dead?"

Good questions. Creative questions. Thinking questions. The teacher delivered a standard fourth grade Shakespeare lecture and told the kids to break for lunch. The questions we are supposed to ask are Mcquestions, so that we can think Mcthoughts and live Mclives when we have finished learning to walk in line.

In elementary school, 40 percent of the boys took ADD or ADHD medication to calm them. Strattera, Concerta, Adderal, Ritalin. My son hated all of them. He said he didn't feel like his real self. Yet when he showed too much energy in the classroom, he was not allowed to go outside and run it off, he was told to go the nurse's office and get more medicine. When I was a child, I was equally badly behaved in class as was his father. His father was sent to military school. I was made to do hundreds of jumping jacks or run. The result for me was excellent. I learned to connect my body and my mind. I learned that when there is too much going on in your head, you need to engage your body otherwise it all becomes a ferocious mixing machine. When I am anxious, angry or sad, I run.

My kids did sports, went to plays, went to art museums, learned to ride horses. But all of that was outside of school. School was about learning to walk in line, to sit still. My daughter took to it. She's planning to be an academic, to get a PhD in English, like I did. She excels at taking in information, spitting it out on tests and papers. My son learns to think by playing instruments, by drawing, by setting up camp, by acting out plays. His kind of learning, kinesthetic learning is called "being stupid" when you're in school. When they were teenagers, we took them to New York and gave them a map and subway passes. Our daughter called me astounded; he had figured out the entire subway system while she was still figuring out north. "I'm the smart one in the family," she said, "right?" In a manner of speaking, she is the smart one. Her brain is connected with books, it can sort the ideas in books. He is spatially aware, street smart and artistic. He's currently camping in New Zealand. He's been there for almost three months and has no money. He's figuring out how to survive.

Take any budding academic at 21 and drop them in a foreign country with no money. As Sir Ken Robinson says, "intelligence is diverse, dynamic, distinct and interactive." By that definition, my son is certainly intelligent. Robinson also says that creativity is having an original idea that has value. We'll see if that dynamic intelligence can become creativity. Accidents might evolve into passion, but there won't be any happy accidents if your life is too carefully planned. Robinson argues that we educate from the waist up, that we squander kids' creativity ruthlessly. Friends look at me in disbelief. "Make him go to college," they say. "He needs to sit down and learn if he's ever going to be anything." By that they mean work for a big corporation, wear a tie, make a big salary. From where I sit, it looks like he's creating a life now. Traveling to different continents, learning what it means to be awake and alert. Robinson says we're educating kids for a future we ourselves don't understand. The biggest lessons I learned in life started early. Make camp. Collect wood. Feed the fire. Watch for bears. Find food. It sounds so ridiculous to the modern man, but if you could figure out those things, maybe, you can figure out light and energy and travelling faster than the speed of light and how to dress well enough to be taken seriously while not taking yourself too seriously. You started off as a builder of fires, and you know you can create heat whenever you need to.

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