Because Vivienne and Norma Ming have such amazing insights on the education system, they also double as incredible parents. The Mings have two children who are being raised to set their own standards and to individually define what they find as high quality. If this standard was applied to assessments in school, the workplace would function drastically different than it does today.
“When my daughter brings me something she has drawn, I don’t say ‘what a pretty picture!’” said Norma Ming. “Instead I say ‘Wow, you’ve put a lot of colors in there,’ or ‘look at all of those lines.’ I describe her work in a different manner. I am just calling her attention to [the things that she did]. I am not putting any judgement onto it.”
This notion of allowing children to decide for themselves what they appreciate as valuable is a concept that we had never thought of before. Our parents have always praised us for our work and emphasized times when we have done a ‘good job.’ What we never realized was as we were praised for our achievements, our subconscious simultaneously predetermines what should be considered as a ‘good job’ or even what we’re ‘good’ at, rather than making that discovery organically.
“The way I like to think about it is a poem by Shel Silverstein,” Norma said. “The first couple of lines are ‘I’ve done it! I’ve done it! Guess what I’ve done! Invented a light that plugs into the sun.’ This idea puts them in charge. Its not me approving of them, it’s them approving of themselves.”
Throughout our lives we are exposed to people who we deem as role models. We are told to idolize those who have achieved success, but by idolizing certain role models, we instill a mindset in ourselves that perfection is achievable, but in reality, even our role models aren’t flawless.
“People think that it’s wonderful to show kids role models, but it’s actually a little double edged,” Norma said. “If you always show kids positive role models they might think that they could never be that. It is more valuable to show children role models that have failed and then succeeded. Kids have to to see that failure happens with everyone and that they can overcome it.”
It is this process of failing and then recovering from that failure that teaches the most profound and lasting lessons. The phrase “learn from your mistakes” is used in the Mings’ education philosophy for their children. The couple tells their children, Felix and Alex, to learn from failure, which is interesting idea. Failure is something that occurs on a daily basis, whether it’s regarding something negligible or that you’ve put a lot of work into. In today’s society, it has become the norm to be discouraged by failure because it is easier to stop trying than it is to overcome weaknesses and mistakes. But the experience of failing is actually vital when it comes to reaching objectives; perseverance is key.
“I always tell Felix to make good mistakes,” Norma said. “A good mistake is one that you are thinking about, learning from and then putting more effort into. I am always trying to frame mistakes that way so he can see what he did.”
The Mings emphasize both learning from mistakes, and emphasizing self-assessment and working to teach their children to be independent. They try not to give their own opinions about their children’s work but instead allow their children to decide for themselves what they are passionate about. This allows their children to be independent and have an awareness regarding personal motivations. We agree that allowing children to formulate opinions about themselves and their work is vital in developing creativity and success later in life. Much too often we get boxed into thinking a certain way, even when we have the desire to expand and explore different concepts and ideas. Vivienne’s philosophy offers a solution to that problem– she makes sure her children can evaluate their own work without the influence of their parent’s opinions.
“When my son finishes drawing a picture or writing an essay I ask ‘what do you think somebody else will see in this picture’ or ‘what will someone else read in this essay?’” said Vivienne Ming. “I don’t tell him what I experienced in it. I don’t say if there is something wrong or not. I simply want him to reflect on what someone else’s experience will be.”
Everyday in our high school lives we strive for the approval of our teachers and parents. Without their guidance we would run amuck, our focus strayed and our opinions doubtful of the quality of our own work. For 17 years we have been trained to depend on our elders and value their opinions above all else. Although we do learn a lot from our teachers, we are also hindered by dependency we consequently acquire. The goal of teachers and parents should be to give children the tools and resources we need to succeed on our own, rather than keeping them constantly desperate for their approval.
“I had a violin teacher who told me her goal for me was that I would not need her anymore,” Norma said. “She wanted me to be able to become my own teacher. I told my son that profound statement and he seemed fascinated by it.”
Zia Lyle and Willow Higgins are juniors at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin. They attended and reported on SXSWedu as Compass Learning student correspondents.