Stop Mowing the Lawn!

Posted by Adam Moore on 10/16/2018

Several months ago, I attended an independent school meeting that was hosted by a local university. As part of the program, a university administrator shared the trends/characteristics they are seeing in college freshmen. The list below is a summary of my notes and not an exact transcription from the speaker.

  • College freshmen are not able to effectively use resources available to them to solve problems
  • Technology is a distractor, specifically social media, to college freshman
  • College freshmen aren’t dealing with stress, anxiety, and worry well
  • College freshmen over-extend themselves
  • Too much parental involvement inhibits college freshmen from growing up and solving their own problems 

As an independent school leader, these trends are ones we have noticed at the secondary level as well. Unfortunately, none of these were a surprise to me, and I would venture to say that we see foreshadowing of these trends as young as the early childhood years. This begs the question, what should we do, as educators and parents, to help prepare our children so they are better prepared for school and life?

We must also examine what we are doing as schools and parents that lead our college freshmen to fall into these trends and traps? How are we designing our schedules, programs, curriculum, and lessons to combat these unhealthy trends? Could it be that we doing too much for children rather than too little? Are they learning the skills they need to be independent learners and problem solvers? How do we help students use technology but not become distracted by it? How do we help students develop the tools to combat anxiety and learn to work through the ups and downs of life? The questions this list brings up are truly endless.

What about as parents? How can we help our children learn how to use resources more wisely? How can we help our children use technology positively, so that it is not a distraction? How do we empower our children to advocate for themselves? How can we better prepare our children to handle the stressors of life?

I feel like as the adults, we carry much of the responsibility for these unhealthy and unofficial trends in college freshman. Maybe the answer can be found in a lawnmower. Yes, you read that correctly – a lawnmower.

For many years, teachers were the “sage on the stage” preparing the learning and “information dumping” on the students. Good teachers know better! Although, I still see this in a lot of classrooms, teachers lecturing and making the way too easy for their students and coming to the rescue when the struggle to understand rears its head (not at my school of course). Good teachers don’t come charging to the rescue at the first sign of struggle. Teachers must allow students to own their learning and not rescue them when students are struggling toward a solution. Some teachers seek to make the path to learning smooth and easy, “mowing the lawn.” The teacher’s job is not to unlock all of the world’s knowledge for the student’s but to allow the students to learn, grow, and take ownership of their own learning. Learning is a long and winding road, filled with peaks and valleys, high and lows, high grass, short grass, Bermuda, winter rye, fescue, weeds, and sometimes bugs and pests. The teacher’s job is not to make the path smooth and easy but to create a classroom culture that makes the process of learning and growing up normal and natural. When things are too easy, the grass is well manicured and weed free, very little actual learning takes place.

Appropriate struggle, challenge, and sometimes failure are necessary ingredients to developing healthy and productive college freshmen and adults. Educators, please don’t make the pathway to learning easy and neatly mowed. Create the type of classroom culture that allows students the space to unlock their own learning and use resources to find solutions. It will make for healthier and better prepared students, not just in college, but in their careers and lives.

Sorry parents, you are not off the hook either, stop mowing the lawn! Don’t inhibit your child’s growth by coming to the rescue every time there is a struggle or bump in the road. Love them and support them unconditionally, but realize that growing up is sometimes a struggle. It is this very difficulty however, that teaches problem solving skills, builds confidence, and creates a healthy self-concept. Of course, knowing when adult intervention is necessary is critical, and there are definitely times when adults need to intervene. The struggle of learning new things and growing up is a good thing. As long as the student has a healthy support system of family and school, the student will learn how to wisely and efficiently use resources, and technology, while not over-extending themselves. You want your child to have a healthy self-concept? Then make sure your child sees the world through the lens of reality. Life has weeds and grasses of all types and learning how to handle each of these situations is critical to life-long success and happiness.

There are ups and downs, highs and lows, and I fear that both teachers and parents are often too quick to “mow the lawn” instead of allowing our students and children the space to learn, grow, struggle, fail, and solve their own academic, artistic, athletic, and social challenges. I hope you will join me as we stop mowing the lawn.