It’s not our job to drive someone else’s life. No matter who it is—whether it’s a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend—it’s not possible.
Author of “Parenting from the Passenger Seat”
Pam Roy is a mother, entrepreneur, and co-founder of B-Unbound, a program and platform designed to connect youth to supportive adults who share their interests and build a community of peers learning to navigate their way together. She recently published her second book, Parenting from the Passenger Seat, where she explores what it means to support and allow young people to drive their own learning journeys and life experiences.
Q: What need did you see in the world that inspired you to write Parenting from the Passenger Seat?
Pam: Distress. I was very concerned about the level of distress that I was seeing in children across the country. It wasn’t just in my community, and it spanned across different regions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and family configurations. This made me realize that this was bigger than a particular school or a particular model—it was systemic. Around that time, I was in graduate school to earn a master’s degree in school counseling, my oldest daughter started college, and my two younger daughters were in high school. It gave me a chance to look at the big picture and say, “What are we doing?” We created a standardized system that ignores individuality and compares unique human beings to one another. The system doesn’t care if someone is creative, or interested in science, or exploring a career in the trades—they all have to compete on the same playing field with the same kind of measurement for different skill sets. I knew something had to change.
Much of my work and views about life are inspired by the work of renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who determined that meaning is specific to the individual and a key factor in mental health. Yet, we expect kids to discover meaning and purpose from within the confines of rigidly structured systems, where they can’t explore, and they can’t connect with people and possibilities out in their communities. Systems are transactional, but humans are relational. Through a series of projects and several serendipitous events, I connected with Elliot Washor and partnered with Big Picture Learning to form B-Unbound. This book is a combination of my reflections as a mother, a believer in communities, and an advocate for young people to lead lives where they feel supported, confident, and fulfilled.
Q: How is B-Unbound helping learners access an education that supports their needs?
Pam: B-Unbound runs parallel to traditional systems, so you don’t have to vacate going to a school to participate. It’s the bridge between the more standardized systems and the community. It’s a resource to look beyond the theoretical and explore what is actually happening in the world and within our communities.
Something I think that distinguishes B-Unbound is that you’re not alone when you go out. You’re within a community of people with similar interests, and you have a co-navigator next to you. You’re empowered as an individual, but have a caring support system when you need it. It is building the bridges and infrastructure that can take us from these existing mechanistic systems into community-based ecosystems, like those Education Reimagined is a proponent of.
B-Unbound acts as a bridge between where we have been, and where we’re going. It’s both a program and a technology platform to connect young people to the things they want to learn about, and the people they can learn with.
Parents play an important role here. Only by acknowledging the vital contributions of parents and including them in these emerging models will the necessary changes be realized. We’ve all spent too much time over the past couple of decades trying to keep our kids in, when the real challenge is to get them out into the world. Our children know this standardized system isn’t working, so how do we create environments where they can land on their feet? The act of parenting from the passenger seat is exactly this. It’s not our job to drive someone else’s life. No matter who it is—whether it’s a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend—it’s not possible and it impedes their search for meaning and purpose.
Responsibility for who we are is the ability to respond to situations in ways that are meaningful. Only the individual in the situation can do that. Viktor Frankl talked about the indivisible mind, body, and human spirit. Our kids might biologically be a part of us and influenced by their environment, but the essence of who they are is something we don’t know. It’s our job to steward this. And really, that’s the hope for my book. My book is not about how to parent your individual child. It’s not a book about how to reform schools. It’s a book about how we all need to be in the passenger seat and respect the dignity of the person driving.
Only by acknowledging the vital contributions of parents and including them in these emerging models will the necessary changes be realized.
Author of “Parenting from the Passenger Seat”
Q: What’s the first step a caregiver can take to begin parenting from the passenger seat?
Pam: I have a whole chapter in the book that asks the question, “What’s a parent to do?” Every parent will be different, just as each of their children will be different. And remember, we can only be in the driver’s seat of our own life. So, I’d suggest the first thing parents can do is look at what we’re modeling, the things we’re prioritizing, and the kinds of messages we’re sending to our kids. Are we modeling our own aliveness? Are we doing things that make our hearts sing and light up? When it comes to our kids, are we constantly monitoring their performance—checking in about homework, tests, and grades? Or are we asking about friends, interests, and their personal well-being? Are we building a community of support that our kids have access to?
For my family, dinner hour was sacred. That was where our family gathered. That’s where we talked about every issue under the sun—where they could learn to use their voice, and listen—which, trust me, was the hardest part. The dinner table can be a learning environment where relationships are prioritized. We were also lucky to have four grandparents near us. If there was a birthday on a weeknight, we celebrated. Homework didn’t matter in those treasured moments. These are things my family valued, and we made the trade-offs necessary to create the time. It will look different for each family, depending on their needs, the needs of their children, and the values they hold as individuals and as a family.
Q: Do you have advice for parents who might be nervous about providing their kids the freedom to explore their communities at a younger age?
Pam: As the mother of three daughters, I can completely relate to this nervousness. But love is greater than fear. Keeping them in creates fragility and doesn’t allow them to build the critical skills they need to navigate life. Our kids are home for maybe 20 years, but then they have another 60 or 80 years where they’re on their own, and that’s what we need to prepare them for. There are going to be times when they’re uncomfortable—and when we’re uncomfortable as parents—but that’s part of growth and part of life. It is how we go from who we are to what we can become.
Author and security specialist Gavin de Becker writes that our intuition is our most valuable resource in determining whether a situation is safe or not. If we teach our kids to turn that off and not trust themselves, or not have people that they can trust, they don’t develop that skill. The wonderful part of how B-Unbound is structured is that co-navigators (adult advisors) are there to ensure that young people have a trusted person if they are in need. By living and learning in the real world, they can build their own decision-making skills and learn to listen to their intuition for guidance when they are navigating life fully on their own.
Q: What gives you hope about the future of education in the United States?
Pam: There are a lot of bright spots throughout the country that give me hope. I continue to be inspired by the students, parents, educators, and community members working together to create this much-needed paradigm shift. For instance, Big Picture Learning has accomplished so much by honoring the dignity of each student, and enabling the parents and community to have a key role in their learning journey. There’s the Bluedoor Community in Auburn, California, with independent teachers and homeschooler parents, where kids can take classes but also learn out in the community. There’s Habitat for Aviation in Vermont, where kids are exploring their aviation interests in really powerful ways. And so many others I could go on about. There are a lot of people out there who see there’s a different way to do things, and they’re working to make that a reality.
Whether a kid likes gardening, or playing guitar, or fishing, we need to nurture those interests. It doesn’t have to be tied to a career. Someone might be out fishing and notice pollution in the water, sparking an interest in environmental science. That’s learning! Those are the bridges B-Unbound is aiming to build for young people. And as more people embrace different types of real-world learning experiences, we’ll begin to see our children and communities flourish in unbelievable and exciting ways.