What a year this has been. A few days ago the family and I did our annual vision setting exercise for the upcoming year. It’s a simple activity. We brainstorm what we want to keep, start, or stop for the upcoming year. Our driving question is, what has helped us to be at our best this past year as a family? When we answer that question, we then decide, what should we keep doing, start anew, or stop doing altogether because it doesn’t add value. Over the past few years we’ve added the kids to the discussion, and it’s led to some good reflections about the state of our family.
If you’re a follower of this space, you know how much I love reflecting, and not just at the end of the year. Looking back over my journal entries I can see a few clear themes emerge about what worked in 2021 for our family and perhaps, might offer some help for those on the verge of big decisions or change in 2022.
Changing the way we approach education
This year we made a difficult, but necessary decision to remove our girls from public school, and instead choose to enroll them in an independent “school”. I say “school” because it’s really a self-directed learning center where students map out how they spend their time and what they learn. Instead of teachers, tests, or grades, students are truly responsible for setting the pace and motivation of their learning. When I think about our family’s truest vision of education, this is what it looks like. What made our choice a difficult one is our own commitment for actively working towards incremental progress in the public school system. But after a years of laywork as an educator and education activist, followed by a year of pandemical learning where we saw the girls lose more motivation for learning, the damn burst.
We knew that we needed to make a change, and so make a change we did, and it’s revolutionized our family. The girls have since tested business ideas, formed “dream team” board of advisors that they’ve met with several times, and seem genuinely excited to spend time learning. Even in my own educational experiences growing up, the two times when I felt the most invested and thus learned the most and was when I choose what I wanted to learn, when, and in the way that made sense for my learning style.
Now, I recognize that not every family has either the time or financial flexibility to make such a drastic change. In fact, it’s a part of my life’s work continuing to shift the paradigm in public education so that this approach is more accessible and mainstream. But for now, we’ve seen the future of what education at its best could be, and this is it.
If you’re just starting down this path and looking for some good reading to help craft your own approach or perhaps challenge some of your assumptions, here’s a few recommendations:
Raising Free People– learning about “de-schooling” as a liberatory approach to education
Why are you still sending your kid to school? A book that challenged many of my own assumptions about school and schooling.
Understanding changing education paradigms– A Ted Talk that will help you see the big picture of the history of education.
Talking intentionally about race as a family
I’m always surprised when I talk to white folks who struggle to find opportunities to talk with their children early and often about race, as if there aren’t plenty of chances. This year presented so many teachable moments, from the election of Georgia’s first black male senator (which also happened on the same day as a group of insurrectionists stormed the nation’s capital), followed days later with the inauguration of our first woman of color Vice President. Throughout the year the moments have presented themselves, we’ve just been intentional as a family to really talk about them at the dinner table, on car rides, whenever it’s come up.
We’ve decided that just because the girls are growing up in a black-ity black community, in a culturally affirming environment, that doesn’t shield them fully from what they’ll experience in the world outside the one we’ve carefully cultivated for them. So, we’ve been explicit about helping them understand patterns around race, and this includes being intentional about discussing our history in its full context. Unfortunately (or fortunately for their self-awareness) my four black daughters don’t have the luxury of going through life blind to the systemic racism that exists.
It’s led to some powerful moments of reflection for the girls, and a decided commitment to continue the dialogue. Despite what some may think, kids are already pondering most if not all of these questions about race and differences of all types on their own. It helps to have a guide, ideally a parent who is committed to doing their own work around understanding how their identity impacts how they show up in this world.
Some of the most impactful reading I’ve done this year on the topic of race include:
How the Word is Passed– A reckoning of the history of slavery across America
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs all of us and how we can prosper together
A Good Kind of Trouble: (we read this with the girls) and it turned out to be a great way to discuss race from the lens of a middle-schooler experience
Planned experiences together as a family
This has been the year of planned experiences (both locally at home and ones that have taken us beyond the nest). We’ve taken more road trips and visited new states and it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind. Who knew that after logging so many miles in a car with six people, we’d still want to be together? And yet, here we are, perhaps even closer than the we began the year. Here’s a few of our tricks that have helped with planned experiences:
Expect the unexpected, and if you can be prepared. If you can’t, then roll with it. Like when we took our annual family photos and I had to bust out the speakers and start blasting music to get the littles to cooperate. Every year we end up with more than one impromptu pose, this one is curtesy of an impromptu dance off during our photo shoot.
I like to travel big. I mean, with lots of stuff so that we have everything we needed. Most of our trips included towing 6 bikes along with piles of luggage. We always used the bikes, but we rarely used all the luggage. One thing I’m working on in 2022 is learning to travel light…whatever that means.
We’ve traveled with others, which has lighted the load and increased the fun + chaos. Find you some friends that match your parenting and chilling style and partner up. You’ll make memories for a lifetime, and the kids will love it.
A few other things…We weren’t afraid to go back to the same place multiple times (why fix it if it isn’t broken?). We got outside on every trip. In fact, we spent most of our trips outside, biking, hiking, lounging. That’s gotta help. When we were doing our 2022 planning with the kids, besides getting a dog in 2022, guess what came up as the next top priority? Family trips.
And there you have it, the Wakefield’s year in review. A year that wouldn’t have been possible without the greatest partner, my wife Samantha Wakefield, and some brilliant daughters #blackgirlmagic.
May 2022 be just as memorable! Happy New Year from our family to yours.