Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Off the Beaten Path

From: bangalore.citizenmatters.in
When faced with choices to make or dilemmas on which way to go, or career options to follow,  or even how to proceed or achieve a particular goal in my life, Robert Frost's The Path Not Taken inevitably comes to mind (usually with a smile) as it conjures such nice memories for me - both personal and professional.

The Road Not Taken  (1916)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
As a teacher, I LOVE teaching this poem because it embodies decision making and critical thinking, particularly because of the challenge Frost gives us in his comment about the poem:
"It's a tricky poem - very tricky."
I will leave what is tricky for you to decide (and can add it in the comments - let me know).  What I want to discuss is how to encourage occasional departures from the mainstream and the consideration of "paths less trodden"  because as Frost notes, it can make "all the difference." And, teaching our kids to take these weighted risks CAN make all the difference for them - be it in school, with friends, or later in life when faced with even more complicated choices.

The trick is raising kids to critically evaluate choices, especially the less obvious ones, and to feel comfortable taking the occasional calculated risks. Being open to options is important for many reasons:
  • It helps us lose the negative effect of labels - the closer we look at other people, placed, things, and other options, the less meaning the superficial labels have.
  • Considering paths 'off the beaten track' trains a more flexible mind.
  • By looking for diverse options we can navigate less congested paths to similar outcomes - be they physical destinations, or professional goals.
I see so many applications here for this:
  • Daily life - in clothing choices, leisure choices, choices in friends, etc.
  • Travel - can be SO interesting and informative when you visit places off the beaten path.  I have found gems doing this - no lines, no wait, super food, super products, or super cool interesting people.  Try it!
  • School projects - diverging from the obvious makes learning for everyone (student, teacher, classmates) more interesting and meaningful.  Sometimes that means brainstorming and creating projects, book reviews, writing assignments that are different or relate a more obscure topic. Go online and have fun researching, planning, and constructing unusual topics.
  • School choices - This might mean different schooling options (i.e. changing schools or homeschooling, or attending specialty schools instead of a liberal arts college).  In one of the schools I worked at there was a really popular third grade teacher who'd been teaching there 30 years- all the parents knew of her and wanted their child to be in her class. But the thing is, her projects and curriculum were old and stale.  The newer third grade teacher had exciting options in his lessons that for many proved the better class.
  • College - You may want to rethink HOW you're applying to college (i.e., essay topic selection or writing / presentation style), WHAT colleges to focus on, or IF college is even the best choice. For some of us, college means loans - loans often greater than the value of our homes.  Is it worth it?  (Go to the following website: http://www.collegedropoutshalloffame.com/h.htm for a fascinating list of famous achievers who never attended or did not finish college.)
NOTE I am NOT encouraging kids to drop out of school or not go to college.  I went to college and graduate school, got A LOT out of them, and I am happy that my kids went to college as well.  My two who finished (my last is still in school) learned a great deal in college and were lucky to find jobs in fields of their choice. I do, however, think too many of us feel an unnecessary need to go to college. In fact, research now shows that many college grads do not gain greater knowledge (although they may gain greater networking ability).  My point is to think and explore less-trodden options to achieve long and short-term goals.]

How to facilitate the discovery of options that are off the beaten track:
  • Begin early. As toddlers, my kids only wanted us to read their favorite book, and one only wanted to wear green for a while, another always wanted to wear the cap of her 'Flash' pajamas because she would run around the house 'racing' time.  Encouraging different choices even in the clothes they wear or the books you read is a nice start.  [Granted rereading books is actually a good thing as kids learn to anticipate and 'read' familiar words and rhymes, but that is fodder for another post, and diversity is important as well.]
  • Talk, read, listen, smell, attend to new and different things all around you.  Make it a point to do this with really new things every so often.  When shopping try a new fruit, read a new book, check out new exhibits and museums, etc. Go hunting for books with unusual covers or the word "slime" in the title, for example.  In short, explore the 'uncharted'.
  • Model by doing unusual things, visiting unusual places, driving to familiar places using different routes.
  • When going on vacations select one or two visits that are off the beaten path, or simply walk with no guide around a new city or neighborhood.
  • Go online, go to the library - search books, magazines, and newspapers for alternative ideas. Read different genres and formats of stories.
  • Talk about how fictional and real-life figures might approach an unusual topic or problem.  Be creative in the figures and topics you decide to discuss.  Have FUN with this.  Laugh, be creative, be extreme.  In the process you may uncover some pretty cool approaches. Below is YouTube video marrying Mr. Bean with hiphop. It's fun.  Come up with your own wild combinations together.
  • Talk with people about anything/everything.  You'd be surprised what type of ideas an unexpected conversation might yield.
  • Look at trends new and old.  Compare and contrast what did and didn't work.  See if one trend or part of a trend can be applied to something different (or tangential).
  • Brainstorm options (for large and small decisions) and really encourage kids to take alternative approaches.

How do you do this and encourage this for yourself or with your kids?  Let us know in the comments.


  1. I have always loved this poem for the same reason seems as if we have to take risks to really know our own potential. Thanks!

  2. I taught for 25 years - and LOVED poetry, absolutely loved taking the children on journeys they wouldn't necessaril have travelled. Great post for ABC Wednesday. Thanks so much
    Denise ABC Team

  3. The daughter and her parents are always talking about choices. Though I would like to conform a little more and wear socks, especially in the winter!

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  4. Beautiful poem!!

    Please come and take a look at my O entry, have a good day!

  5. Love the Mr. Bean video, but whenever I try to be goofy like this, my daughters just groan and tell me to stop! LOL (I won't!) Love this post and it brought to mind my 2 Grade 12 students who have to write an expository essay from a list of 6 topic choices. It was incredible how vague the topics were, but it sure gave us lots of food for thought. With each of them, it took us an hour just brainstorming which topic to use and how to use it. For example, one topic was "High School Students." Huh? What does that mean? Anyway, long story short, this particular student got it down to a quote by Bill Gates where he said something like be nice to nerds because you might one day end up working for one. I can hardly wait to see what she has written so far. The other student chose the topic about how the environment can influence people. Again, huh? He came up with rags to riches stories using Oprah, Eminem, and Elvis as examples of ending up rich and philanthropic and rich and dead! I love working with older kids because we can get into such great conversations about what they're studying! This post is so good and I, too, have always loved this poem - I just might be taking the path less travelled again in my life - soon. :)

  6. Leslie, your students work sound fascinating! I'd love to hear how they come out. As a student (and parent) I hated vague assignments, but as you clearly demonstrate, they do have their benefits!

  7. Love this poem and love all the ways you have discovered to help kids understand it better.

  8. My son decided not to go to College and pursue a music career. He has been tremendously successful and I think in his case it was definitely the right decision. I completely believe in people following their dreams and pursuing their first love.
    P.S. I read the poem at the first meeting of the Writers Community of Simcoe County meeting!

  9. I used to teach this poem too, but I have to say we taught it in two ways--two very different interpretations. Of course there is the taken the lesser traveled road; however, the poem also suggests that the narrator may be telling this with remorse years later. "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference." <--The I--I could actually be him getting choked up because he made the wrong choice.

    And if you really look at this line "Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same," it shows the roads were the same. So the popular interpretation may not be the right one at all.

    Something to think about. :)

  10. I always liked this poem as well. I believe we all should choose wisely and not to be afraid of taking a chance. Faythe @ GMT~

  11. I'm familiar with that less traveled path :)

  12. "raising kids to critically evaluate choices" and "to feel comfortable taking the occasional calculated risk" - so, so important. Thank you. & good suggestions for how to begin and continue teaching, showing, modeling this for our kids. Well done.

    I was so happy when one of my daughter's friends (13 yrs old & a real material girl) checked out my blog and said she'd actually read my post on the working poor, and liked it. I gave her a huge hug and thanks. I was happily impressed that she took that initiative.

  13. Your blog looks interesting.

  14. Thank you Meryl for your thoughtful and validating comments on my blog. My son's band has lots and lots on You-Tube. He is the bass player in a band called 'Hawk Nelson,' and my favourite song is called: 'Everything You Ever Wanted.' Enjoy!

  15. Hi Meryl-
    It's been a while since I popped over here, but I like the new background! Plus...Robert Frost, and that particular poem are on my list of favorite things! I feel like a choir member and this post is the sermon from the pulpit. Yes, yes and more yes. Taking calculated and out-of-the-way diversions CAN make all the difference!


  16. Thanks for linking up to Sunday Social.
    New follower,

  17. thanks for joining my before-after party :)

  18. Your posts are always so interesting and thought provoking.

  19. I am a new fan of your blog. You have some really great content.


  20. That Robert Frost's poem, my favourite and only one that I remember from High school. It applied to me so often.

    I like to report an anonymous comment that I have been getting on my blogs which is offensive to half the American population. I am not American, and is still very angry with it. I have deleted the comment on my blogs, and I wonder if you have received any. I won't bother to mention the name because that would promote him further.

  21. This is such a great poem! I love asking my kids questions to help them come to a decision rather than just quickly giving my opinion.

  22. Just what I needed to read today...thank you!


  23. I love that poem. Very interesting post with terrific ideas. I'm all for taking the road less traveled! Thanks for visiting.

  24. Great poem - and quite tricky, indeed! My class had quite a long discussion about it back in high school. I like how you focused on the less trodden path in today's society.

  25. Individuality should be applauded - instead, everyone is encouraged to follow the same educational path, whether it is appropriate or not.

  26. I watched a TED talk about divergent thinking and how children become less adept at divergent thinking as they get older. So I make it a point to encourage divergent thinking with my kids. I often search the internet for divergent thinking ideas and we have discussions/brainstorms over dinner. An easy way to start - discuss all the different uses for a blanket (or a paperclip or a straw . . . )

    Thanks for the encouragement in this post!

  27. I took my kids out of school and started to home school them. EVERYONE said I couldn't do it. 9 years later my son is going to college with scholarships and pays nothing. His teachers tell him they want him to discuss his thoughts more because he thinks outside the box. He tells me I did that. I followed his lead and we studied what he was interested in. When he was interested in raising guppies we learned ichthyology ~ When he wanted to learn about our Faith we studied theology ~ when he was interested in money we studied economics he took off and was an amazing student and teacher. I hope we go do the same with the other children.

    Great post

  28. I'm glad u found me and gave me the advice you did.
    I have the opportunity to go to college now. I didn't have this option before ( although I did go to medic school and was a medic for a long time.) and I am not sure how long it will be an option. My sons social worker showed up at our house the other day with the blessed news I was award a full scholarship.
    I had a 3.8 in high school graduated top 10 of my class with over 400 students and I never imagined what I wanted to be. Nothing has every caught my attention. I always thought I would be a medic forever? Sving lives being the hero. I had kids and it all changed. It was to risky all the needles in moving trucks and such so I gave it up. Now I am stuck at the path where I do not know. I don't ant to loose this chance to go on. I want to show my kids that I am something what that something is I have no idea :(
    Your words help and your blog is such and inspiration! I'll he coming back often!
    Thank you for visiting

  29. Thought-provoking post, Meryl. Anyone who has visited my blog knows I long-ago chose the road far less traveled... with no regrets. I leave only these questions for you: are there anything BUT calculated risks in life? Isn't even a non-decision a calculated risk? Isn't taking the road MORE traveled a calculated risk? Isn't the issue really how GOOD our calculations are? :-)