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Achieving Educational Success

Learn the guiding principles to academic success and educational freedom.
Updated: December 1, 2022

Achieving Educational Success

In my school life, I've been every kind of student. As a little kid, I was in love with learning. I would spend hours building things with my hands or talking about ideas or stories that got me excited. Come elementary school, I became the kind of student who was considered "bad" and "stupid." I grew up in the hallway hanging out with the janitors after being kicked out of class or sitting in a little blue desk in the principal's office chatting with Shirley the receptionist. I grew up in the "blue bird" reading group reading "See Spot run." I spent elementary school hiding in the bathroom in tears, terrified of reading out loud and praying that when I returned I would be passed by in the reading circle -- only to discover that the class had waited for me.

I learned at an early age there is a stark difference between education and schooling. Although many schools give lip service to the ideas of truly valuing knowledge, passion, and the individual learner, what our education system truly values is schooling: sitting still, getting in line, blind achievement, competition, and following the rules. Come high school, I was sick of schooling. I was the kind of student who did not care one iota about school. I was an athlete and that was all. Or at least that was all I showed to the outside world. Like most students who have learned academic helplessness, under that facade was a kid who loved to learn his own way. But it was a long time before I found that kid again, the one who loved to learn. I slipped through high school considered apathetic, lazy, and average; I was even told that I would be "flipping burgers for a living."

So what kind of student am I today? Am I flipping burgers? Not quite. Even though I still spell at a third-grade level and have the attention span of a gnat, I graduated from Brown University with a 4.0 in English literature. I was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship and was awarded the Truman Scholarship for Public Service for Graduate Studies in the field of creative writing and education. In addition, as an undergraduate, I co-authored a book, Learning Outside the Lines. I am far from flipping burgers.

But Brown, my GPA, and these accolades are not the essence of my success. School success is far from educational success. The essence of my success is that I stopped pursuing schooling and pursued my education. How did I do this? My approach to learning -- my study skills -- played a pivotal role in that transition. During my time at Brown I abandoned the notion of trying to learn the normal way, I stopped worrying about schooling, and developed an approach to learning and studying that was truly individualized. This approach is what you will find here. These principles about study skills will get you started.

Principle 1: Learner Centered Tools for Empowerment

These study skills are about empowerment. They are tools that can empower your kids to craft an individualized education that is right for them in an environment where students have little control and little room for individuality. These study skills are centered around your child's individual learning style, personal goals, and educational passions. You will have help to identify how your child learns, and then find concrete tools to empower you to individualize your child's approach to school. They are not one-size fits all and they do not oppose some idealized standard of what a good student should be like.

Principle 2: Play the School Game

My mom saved my life by telling me that my struggles with school were not because my mind was broken, and we would learn how to play the school game and navigate this system together. That is the foundation of any successful study skills development. Your child's success or struggles with school are not an indication of her intelligence or her worth. The reality is that school is a game, with rules and ways to learn how to play the game better. There is freedom and concrete success in addressing this fact with your child and helping her understand that study skills are a way to play the school game in a manner that is right for her mind.

Principle 3: Develops Meta-Cognitive Skills

One of the most important elements of these study skills is that they begin the process of developing meta-cognitive skills in your child. The meta-cognitive process is just a fancy way to say helping your child to think about thinking -- in other words helping your child understand how she learns and how she thinks. Many studies have shown that meta-cognitive skills are a better prediction of life success than grades or test scores. This is no surprise. When an adult knows how his mind works he can master any situation in his life. As you work with your child to develop individualized study skills, ask her to think about how her mind works.

Principle 4: Recursive Process

It is important to realize that the act of developing individualized study skills is a recursive process that keeps building on itself over time. It is unreasonable to expect that your child will develop perfect study skills in one day. In reality, developing study skills is a process of trial and error that occurs over the course of a child's school life. It is imperative that you create an environment where it is OK for your child to try a skill, fail at that skill, evaluate why that skill did not work, and create another one. Moreover, study skills change with different academic tasks and as your child gets older. These study skills are something you will come back to over and over again. Through this recursive process of trial and error, you will empower your child to have ownership of her own study habits and be able to adapt and modify these skills herself.

Principle 5: Study Skills as the Practice of Educational Freedom

In the end, there is an element of these study skills that transacts the concrete goal of your child getting better grades. These study skills are about killing the myth that there is such a thing as a "normal" student. The reality is that what we consider to be normal is actually average -- normal students are those that are well schooled, not well educated. Your goal is to have an educated child. These study skills provide a platform for you to begin the process of un-schooling your child. Ultimately, these study skills are an educational end in and of themselves. The process of empowering your child to develop dynamic study skills and take control of her education is an exercise in the practice of educational freedom.

So much creativity, talent, passion, and so many lives are lost because we value "schooling," fitting in, and being normal above true learning. It is educational freedom, not school success, not schooling, not gold stars, or GPA's, that will change your child's life.

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