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What I Would Teach A Child

As a kid, I gravitated towards math and science and my mom helped me a lot to make it through the education process. Towards the beginning of high school I realized the connection between education, a professional degree, prestige and a steady income – that’s probably why I chose medicine.

It took a long time for me to figure out the education part. I was under the impression that I was being taught useful knowledge and didn’t realize until later that it wasn’t about learning the material, rather, regurgitating the material the way the instructor wanted.

Concepts and open-ended questions are too time consuming for teachers to test so most professors stuck to testing knowledge that was easily graded on a test.

The majority of fellow pre-med’s were great test-takers. They relied on their test-taking abilities all the way through the MCATs and standardized medical school exams. But eventually the playing field evened out. It’s hard to make it through clinical rotations or residency with test-taking skills alone. And by the time we get a j-o-b, we come to recognize that we are only allowed to use a portion of our knowledge within the confines of the system which reimburses us.

Medicine gave me the confidence I needed to pursue further education but it definitely didn’t give me the analytical skills, the independent learning skills, and general life skills I needed to succeed in life. I am still defining what ‘success’ would be but it wouldn’t be having a higher education, a professional degree, a high income, wealth, notoriety, or prestige.


What I Would Want A Child To Learn

I can go back in time and conjecture as to what my parents should have done regarding my teaching. I was a major problem child, so let me just put it out there, the fact that I’m not in prison is already a testament to my parents success in raising me.

Topics to cover in a child’s education

  • Critical thinking (discouraged in school)
  • analytical thinking (discouraged in school)
  • real world problem solving (nope)
  • people skills (negatively reinforced in school)
  • management skills (not taught in school)
  • long-term life planning (not even vaguely mentioned in school)
  • risk assessment (not at all)


The list above wasn’t really enforced in my education or upbringing. If it was, the breadth was very narrow. It’s easy to overlook these education points because a medical career is an all-encompassing field and those on the pre-med path are either thought to not need to learn such things or it’s believed that they will learn it automatically. Medicine is believed to give a person a secure job, a high income, a steady income, friends, access, prestige, notoriety, resources – everything you need to be considered ‘successful’ in a modern society.

I could see a young person neglecting other skillsets when pursuing medicine if for no other reason than being overwhelmed with the responsibility of learning medicine. And I could see parents doing the same – “the kid will be fine”, they’ll think. And 90% of the time, their pre-med child will indeed be fine. But will they grow as much as they could have? Will they have the impact they could have? Those are the questions I’m trying to answer for myself by thinking through this post.


What Parents Should Teach Versus What A School Provides

I think my parents should have pushed me a bit more into those other directions and placed less emphasis on getting an MD. Getting an MD is, in fact, quite easy. The process is laid out, you just have to check each one off in order to get to the next step. And becoming a physician is much easier when you’re a little older. I have a friend now who is 40 years old and finishing his first year of medical school – he was in finance before and loved it, but was always intrigued by medicine.

Then again, my mom spent a lot of time keeping me out of trouble and getting me out of trouble. Was there any room left for her and my pops to teach me that other stuff?

Looking back, my dad probably was more proactive in wanting me to learn that stuff – those abstract concept that traditional education obviously hasn’t figured out how to address nor is meant to address. However, my household was always a bit divided when it came to mom and dad – they each had very different personalities and since mom was more dominant than dad, she always got her way when it came to our upbringing.


Learning Survival Skills Early

I see 2 scenarios, 1) you learn solid survival skills early in life out of necessity, 2) you are taught survival skills in a stepwise, logical fashion without pressure.

I’m not talking about how to kill a snake and eat it though I realize that such survival shows are popular on TV. I’m talking about survival skills in society (prosper skills perhaps?). Learning how to navigate society, how to prosper in it, and how to use your own success to pull others up with you. You know, a sustainable existence.

Scenario 1. So you got the poor neighborhoods where resources are limited and the cycle of poverty is passed down from generation to generation due to unchecked habits. In order to survive in a resource-poor situation such as this, one has to develop very basic survival skills which have to be used on a daily basis, leaving very little room for growth. It’s also quite unlikely that the person who has acquired those skills will place much value on them other than for survival, i.e., making rent on time.

Scenario 2. It’s great if you live in a protected household and you feel safe. There, you can learn how to apply survival skills without the fear of making mistakes and getting severely punished for them. This allows a child to make a ton of mistakes and learn from them. Build on those mistakes and then constantly improve.


Punishing Mistakes

I never realized how important it was for me to make mistakes throughout my education journey. I was always trying to avoid them when in fact I should have encouraged them. It has a lot to do with my way of understanding the education system – making fewer mistakes was rewarded, making no mistakes meant I was ‘smarter, wiser’.

Regarding Brilliance…

As physicians we know there is no such thing as being brilliant . Everyone looks to us as being brilliant and we know the exact path we took to get here and 99% of us didn’t need or develop brilliance through this process. Each of us however worked our asses off to get to where we are.

Some healthcare professionals and healthcare support staff are still caught up in the mindset of brilliance. They are trying to ‘be as good as’ whoever they view as brilliant in their fields – sometimes physicians, sometimes their own role models.

Encouraging Mistakes

I am so much more lenient now when I make mistakes, it’s shocking to witness my own response – in the not-too-distant past I would have been frustrated and disappointed in myself. I now understand that the only way I’ll grow is by making mistakes.

Unfortunately, at age 39, there are bigger consequences when making mistakes but even that can be curbed. I’m not breaking bones trying to figure out the best way to ride my bike through town. I’m not taking all my savings and investing it in something I’m not terribly familiar with – instead I invest slowly and cautiously.

I might try my hand at a business and fail, which I have done quite well, quite a few times. And I constantly fail when bouldering in the gym. I’m not shitting you though, when I make a mistake now, I am actually sort of excited because I know that for sure it means I’m getting closer to completing my project.

Learning From Mistakes

To learn from mistakes we must encourage mistakes. To encourage mistakes we must push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. To leave our comfort zones, we must have a big-picture understanding of the world and see the value in growing even if it means 2 steps forward and 1 step back.

To actually learn we must have the skills to measure our progress and know how to make incremental adjustments. Sports is probably a really good example, though when I watch kids play competitive sports, especially with their parents present, I don’t witness a healthy process that encourages learning. Maybe it’s about motivation – I’m not sure.

A strong support structure and mentors specifically, are vital to make sure that grave mistakes aren’t made. I actually think children making grave mistakes is quite rare when a household has the resources to offer proper education and support along the way.


How To Teach, What To Teach

Teaching someone something they don’t want to learn is damn near impossible. The best teachers I’ve had were the ones who took the time to figure out what my motivations were and they aimed their education strategically at that – sneaky!… but incredibly effective.

Figuring Out A Child’s Motivation

I’m not a parent but I was a kid once… those are my credentials. I am and was stubborn as fuck… that’s my qualifier. I was a disaster of a child with a ton of behavioral issues in school and outside… that’s my case presentation.

My dad always wanted to kindly but forcefully teach me stuff and help me understand concepts – that didn’t work. I responded poorly to that. My mom took a very sly approach and let me make a lot of mistakes while always watching and being incredibly supportive.

I was motivated by projects that could capture my attention. I had some (a lot of) attention issues and I was easily distracted by shiny things. I cared very little about praise by teachers or recognition by authority figures. I thrived off of pushing the envelope and seeing where a system would fail – or when I would get my ass kicked. I did, however, feed off of doing well competing against others.

I didn’t do well in organized sports because I wouldn’t listen to the coach. I’d act up. I’d get into it with the other kids and intentionally fail or perform subpar. My mom figured that out and knew that I had athletic prowess which she encouraged by giving me sugar and sending me to go play sports all day – unstructured.

Determining The Child’s Circuitry

To summarize the above, in order to teach a child I think it’s important to first figure out how the kid is wired. Hardheaded kids like me will just dig their heels in more if they aren’t approached properly and no punishment in the world did or would have made a difference. And honestly, that’s just gonna make your life as a parent hell.

  • Does the kid get frustrated easily but recover right away with a little bit of direction?
  • Are they the kind that completely give up after failure and refuse to restart a problem?
  • Are they easily distracted but can maintain focus after getting rid of some nervous energy?
  • Do they learn and advance through competition with others or do they feed off of camaraderie and teamwork?
  • Do they define success by being recognized by an authority figure, by peers, or by themselves?
  • Do they do better with very structured work or would they prefer multitasking and having multiple projects to work on?
  • Is their learning reinforced through making mistakes or through their accomplishments?
  • Do they resolve conflict and problems by talking them through with peers, authority figures or internally?
  • How do they recover after a major failure or conflict? Do they need time to process and analyze or do they need to proactively work it through externally?
  • Do they like to learn facts and concepts or do they need to absorb them through solving problems?


Choosing The Content

Obviously, you’d need to have the answers above in order to figure out how to choose the educational content. And I don’t think it’s easy obtaining that data – but if you test out different systems on the kid, you’ll probably figure it out fairly quickly.

I vote for real world examples. Period. I’m just a fan of it because there is so much content that can be used from a real world situations than teaching kids the traditional, vanilla, didactic model.

I feel like this entire post has been coming down to me mentioning this one guy I came across recently, so let me get that off me just get that out: Ryan Finlay. I’ve followed his content for years and have connected with him in the past when I was trying to make a specific career move. Recently, he launched his Appliance School which I think is an awesome course not just adults but kids.

Though the content is literally regarding appliances (washers, dryers, etc.), the skills can be translated to everything. And I’ve thought this through and every one of those concepts I touched upon earlier would come up by having your kid (or yourself) take such a course.

After taking the course, of course, it would be important to put it into practice and then take notes (mentally or literally) and try to improve. Next, it would be helpful for the kid to come with their own unique project and not only succeed at it but then write a course on how to do it.

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