After I wrote
The Only Thing Children Really Need Is Freedom, I felt the urge
to flip through my copy of
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary
Results, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. If The ONE Thing
offers a sure path to success for people and businesses, I wondered, and
if it works in all areas of our lives and on anything as the authors
contend, does it also represent a sure path for our children to become
successful? And if so, how can we best transmit the lessons of The
ONE Thing to the next generation and what signs of The ONE Thing,
if any, can we find in our schools today? Could it be that the ONE thing
children need is freedom so that they, too, can enjoy the opportunity to
pursue their ONE Thing?
In The ONE Thing, Keller and Papasan defend that people and
businesses achieve extraordinary results when they go as small as
possible, they focus on ONE Thing, and they find the answer to this
question: "What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it /
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?" And then they do that
ONE Thing, the ONE Thing that matters most.
"Extraordinary results," they write, "are directly determined by how
narrow you can make your focus." Success leaves clues. People and
businesses achieve extraordinary results when they focus on ONE Thing,
whether it’s a secret chicken recipe in the case of Colonel Sanders,
coffee for Starbucks, or writing books in the case of Gary Keller.
The authors also write about the 6 lies or myths that stand between
people and their success and those are that Everything Matters Equally,
that Multitasking is a "good" thing, that you have to have a Disciplined
Life to be successful, that Willpower is On Will-Call, that there is
such a thing as a Balanced Life, and that Big is Bad.
The message of The ONE Thing is indeed a very simple one: "When
you bring purpose to your life, know your priorities, and achieve high
productivity on the priority that matters most every day, your life
makes sense and the extraordinary becomes possible."
Put in a simple equation, The ONE Thing looks something like this:
Focus on ONE Thing + Do What Matters Most = A Life that Makes Sense +
Now, let’s look at education. In most of our schools today (and that
goes for public and private schools), children are being taught, day in
and day out, year in and year out, that every subject matters equally,
that multitasking is a required skill, and that it is all about having a
balanced curriculum and a disciplined life. Children, in essence, are
being taught that the equation is actually this:
Focus on a Dozen Things + Do What Matters to Others = A Life that Makes
Sense + Success
“The ONE Thing we can do, the
ONE Thing we must do for the sake of our children, is give
them the freedom to pursue their ONE Thing.”
Clearly, something is not adding up. If focusing on ONE Thing and doing
what matter most leads to success and a life that makes sense, there may
be several possible answers to the second equation but it can’t possibly
be the same. So we are left with this:
Focus on a Dozen Things + Do What Matters to Others = X + Y
You can fill in the blanks with whatever you wish, but it really doesn’t
matter what come out of this equation. If our goal, our ONE Thing, if
for our children to have successful, meaningful lives, what we need to
do is actually begin with this:
X + Y = Life That Makes Sense + Success.
And we already know what X and Y stand for.
Success Leaves Clues... in Education, Too
As adults, we take for granted the freedom we have to pursue our ONE
Thing if we choose to. Nothing can stop us but ourselves. As adults, we
are also free to seek any knowledge we want at any time. If you are
reading a book so you can learn to change your own oil and fix your car,
which would make trips to the mechanic unnecessary, you probably
wouldn’t have the instinct to put it down after an hour in order to read
about history for a while so you can have a balanced life. When we make
something our ONE Thing, as adults, we do what matters most to achieve
success in that thing and when we’re done, we move on to another ONE
Thing... of our choice.
Children appear to be wired the same way we are in that they naturally
and instinctively pursue ONE Thing after another from the moment they
are born, and they do so until we, the grown ups, put a stop to it by
sending them to "schools." When the child is learning how to talk, his
ONE Thing is to make sounds and practice until the sounds that come out
also make sense to other people and he can be understood. When the child
is learning how to walk, he naturally makes it his ONE Thing to get into
a vertical position and put one foot in front of the other until he’s
able to walk. Walking makes getting around easier, and talking makes
crying unnecessary when the child wants something. Children go through
several ONE Things in the first few years of their lives, ONE Thing
after the other.
When the child enters school, everything changes. All of a sudden, his
ONE Thing doesn’t matter anymore or if it does, it matters equally with
all the other things. And when the bell rings, it means that his thing
won’t matter again until the next day or the next week. What matters
most to others becomes his new reality. Everything also becomes harder,
required by others, and necessary. Not much seem to make sense anymore
and "learning," the child quickly realizes, is a long, boring, and
painful process. The natural instinct he had to pursue his ONE Thing
slowly fades away. He has to learn to live a disciplined and balanced
life because for him, there is no way out.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can give our children lives that make
sense by simply not taking away the freedom we have let them enjoy since
birth. We can do this by creating school environments such as Sudbury
schools where children are given the freedom to pursue their own
interests and are given the responsibility to do what matters most to
them at all times. When children learn by pursuing their ONE Thing, one
thing at a time, instead of being taught all the things others think
matter all at the same time, everything else does indeed become easier
or unnecessary... for them.
Let me give you an example. In Sudbury schools, children are not "taught"
how to read and they are not given a time frame by which they have to be
able to read. Yet, every single one of them does learn how to read long
before he or she graduates. Why? Because somewhere along the way, as the
child was pursuing her ONE Thing, the skill of reading became necessary
for the exploration to continue. How? For a while, the child made it her
ONE Thing to learn how to read so that she could quickly return to the
other ONE Thing she was working on. Learning how to read may or may not
have been perceived as "hard," but her life never stopped making sense.
To her, learning to read was just one more step in the pursuit of her
ONE Thing and in the end, it made her life easier. And no, she will not
learn "everything" her schoolmates are learning for they, too, are
pursuing their ONE Thing. Some learning thereby becomes unnecessary.
Children in such environments may go through several ONE Things but
that’s the point. Children are not born with tags on their toes telling
us what their ONE Thing is and it is for them to figure out, not us. As
Keller and Papasan point out, "if you don’t know what your ONE Thing is,
your ONE Thing is to find out." That’s every child’s ONE Thing, until
she finds out.
If we are serious about changing education in this country, we have to
start by making it our ONE Thing and then ask ourselves the right
focusing question. So what’s the ONE Thing we can do (when it comes to
the education of our children) / such that by doing it / everything else
will become easier and unnecessary? The answer, to me, is surprisingly
simple and clear. The ONE Thing we can do, the ONE Thing we must do for
the sake of our children, is give them the freedom to pursue their ONE
From the same author
The Only Thing Children Really Need Is Freedom
313 – August 15, 2013)
Bilinguisme Made in USA
134 – 6 décembre 2003)
L'esclavage et la guerre pour l'indépendance du Sud
106 – 6 juillet 2002)
105 – 8 juin 2002)
When genealogy meets history: How my Acadian
ancestors inspired me
102 – April 13, 2002)
First written appearance of the
word 'liberty,' circa 2300 B.C.
Le Québécois Libre
Promoting individual liberty, free markets and voluntary
cooperation since 1998.