Friday, November 05, 2010

preparing children for mastery

I have been reading George Leonard's 1991 book Mastery, the keys to success and long-term fulfillment. It was recommended by a reader. Leonard's first point is that American culture appears to be at war against mastery. Our we-want-it-all-now consumer culture does little to convey a sense of what mastery is about nor does it contain a sense of the potential rewards one can draw from it. Our fast pace of life does not allow for the rhythms of it that take place over extended time. In schools, we have the bell to tell when to drop what we're doing and head to other things. We have ends of terms and grades to tell that we are complete, long before any true mastery has arrived in our lives.

And so, what do we do to prepare children for a life in which mastery plays some part? Here are some guidelines.
  1. Children must be exposed to mastery in order to perceive it as an option in their own lives. Take them to places to see people whose mastery is an important component of their lives. Artist in schools programs can play an important part in exposing kids to mastery. Craft shows, art exhibits, museums, athletic and music performances offer others. Look for signs of mastery as exhibited within your community and share what you find.
  2. Set an example with your own life. You need not be a master, but need to be on a path.
  3. Schools are set up for dabblers. Engaging in a path toward mastery requires time for dedication outside schooling. Make time outside schooling for your child.
  4. Setting a course toward mastery is deeply personal, and personally demanding. Allow the child to choose and give your every ounce of encouragement to what your child has chosen. You may not be a master yourself, but can gain mastery in your encouragement of others.
  5. Help your child to understand that mastery is not dependent on aptitude, but on will. Encourage that will.
  6. Help your child to understand that mastery is a life-long engagement.
As described by Leonard:
The human individual is equipped to learn and go on learning prodigiously from birth to death, and this is precisely what sets him or her apart from all other known forms of life. Man has at various times been defined as a building animal, a working animal, and a fighting animal, but all these definitions are incomplete and finally false. Man is a learning animal, and the essence of the species is encoded in that simple term.
Today I will be taking snapshots of cabinet projects for the artists at Taunton Press to begin contemplation of the cover of the book. I will also sign a contract to begin blogging on the new Fine Woodworking website, which will come live on my birthday, November 15.

My latest cabinet is shown below.


  1. Very interesting post. Much to our shame and detriment there is a pervasive culture of 'she'll be right mate' or 'close enough is good enough'. I agree that it is the path that is most important. An attitude of striving to higher skill and great control of ones abilities.

  2. Impatience, the mother of stupidity, praises brevity . . .
    --Leonardo DaVinci

  3. Anonymous1:54 PM

    As one of the old jazz saxophone players put it on his 85th birthday, and this is paraphrasing, "I've been playing this thing for 65 years, and I think I'm starting to get it right."