Or the Value of Self-Directed Learning
Callum arrives home from town. He stops by my bedroom to say hello. I glance up from my computer and say, “Callum! You could have changed your clothes before going out!”
Callum grins. His long shorts are streaked with grease. His fingers are black. He has a smudge on his face.
“What will people think?” I am smiling. I don’t really care what people think.
“You’re a reflection of your family,” I tease my son. “Everyone will say, ‘Didn’t Callum’s mother teach him anything?’”
“You taught me how to get an engine out of a car.”
I don’t remember giving Callum any car mechanic lessons so I say, “Huh? What do you mean?”
“You taught me all that maths and how to develop my fine motor skills.” He thinks for a moment because this isn’t really what I taught him and what he wants to say. “You taught me to be a self-directed learner.”
Yes, that’s better. I didn’t actually teach Callum much at all. I just encouraged him to follow his interests and he taught himself.
Callum is a classic example of an unschooler. He has passions. His one huge passion is cars. Over the past several years he has bought himself three old cars and has taught himself car mechanics. He’s had lots of opportunity to work on many different types of problem. His cars are old. What could go wrong, does go wrong. As he fixes one problem, something else breaks. It’s never-ending. It’s a never-ending learning experience.
Callum hasn’t done any mechanics courses but he has read books, joined online discussion forums and most importantly, he’s gets his hands dirty (very dirty!) while he tries things out.
The doorbell rings. It’s the postman. “Parcel for Callum Elvis.” I sigh. The mail is never for me. Heavy parcels, small parcels, odd shaped parcels: It’s all for Callum. It’s always spare car parts.
“Hey Mum! Look at this.” Callum shows me a piece of metal and rubber. “Doesn’t that look good?”
“Oh yes!” I agree. I have no idea what I am looking at, but Callum’s enthusiasm is infectious.
“What do you like best, my camshaft or this?”
“Definitely the camshaft,” I say. “Poetry in motion.” We both smile. I think Callum likes how I take the time to look and listen even though I haven’t much idea about things to do with cars. I’m always exclaiming over the beauty of some part or other. (Have you ever noticed the excellent design and engineering that goes into every single piece of a car?) It’s our bit of fun, but it’s not only fun. It’s serious too. We share a lot. Callum is always talking over his plans, his dreams and his ideas with me.
Callum has been working full time as a trainee manager at a local big chain supermarket for the last few years. It’s a good job. It’s well paying. It’s a job with prospects. But it no longer excites him. He has bigger and better ideas.
“I’ve found out about that welding course,” Callum announces one day. “I can fit it in around my work shifts.” His eyes are glowing. “When I can weld, I can…”
Yes, one day Callum hopes to restore and modify cars. Welding, spray painting, mechanics, engineering, a business of his own… yes, he has plans.
I really love watching Callum involved with his interest. He’s always encountering problems but he works doggedly away at them until he has solved them. It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s frustrating. But it’s satisfying. It’s what he loves doing.
There’s only one downside to having a child (even an adult one) with a huge passion: the mess.
“The engine is out of my ute,” grins Callum. He’s replacing it with a new one. “Do you want to see?” So I go outside and there’s this huge engine attached to an engine crane, sitting on our driveway.
“Where are you going to put that?” I ask. I already know the answer. Soon it’ll be a feature of our garden, together with his other spare engine… and all the extra bits and pieces scattered here and there. I remind myself: No one learns unless they make a mess.
“You got that engine out of the car, Mum.”
“Yes, if it wasn’t for you, I never would have learnt the skills to do it.”
Isn’t that nice? Isn’t that encouraging? I didn’t have to teach Callum a single thing about car mechanics. All I had to do was let him follow his passion.
“You got that engine out of the car, Mum.”
You didn’t know I can remove car engines, did you?