My son has always had a passion for cars. When he was 3 or 4 (he is 14 now), I remember him telling me that a Honda was coming down the street. I asked how he knew because it was too dark to see the car in any detail. He said he could tell from the shape of the headlights.
Over time, his interest in and knowledge of cars has only grown. He now has what seems to be an encyclopedic knowledge of makes, models, engines, mechanics, and history. It turns out, he has learned all of this from watching YouTube channels like Donut Media, popular TV shows like Top Gear and The Grand Tour, and reading magazines like Car and Driver and Motor Trend. What we thought was useless screen time, was actually valuable learning.
As we’ve realized this, we’ve also gotten committed to helping Tucker find a community of people he can learn from and with about cars—how to fix them, race them, pick good deals, anything and everything. But, it has been much harder than anticipated. Things were too far away, he was too young, or the opportunities we did find just weren’t a fit for him.
Luckily, I work in the learner-centered world. And, I ended up, through the recommendation of Elliot Washor of B-Unbound and Big Picture Learning, on the phone with Charlie Plant of Harbor Freight Fellows. Charlie immediately said, “You don’t have to travel far to find someone who is noodling with a car. The world is full of tinkerers. They are all around us and would love to talk to a young person like your son.”
His advice was so simple. The key, he said, is that Tucker, or any young person, find a community of people practicing a craft who will take an interest in him and support him to develop his skills such that he is respected by that community in that craft. It doesn’t matter what the skill is. It is the process itself—of seeking out a space to grow, develop, and find belonging—that will be replicable all through his life.
And, I put Charlie’s advice into action. This past weekend, when I stopped at a local gas station, I asked if they would have any interest in a high school intern. To my delight, the owner said he’d be happy to talk to Tucker about a job. A job! What a coup. The shop owner shared that his dad had opened up the shop in 1964, when the current owner was 2. He recalled how proud he was to get the work in the shop, wearing the uniform and earning money. He was excited to hear that a high schooler wanted to work there. He said he used to have 4 young people each summer, but that he hadn’t had a single person apply in 13 years.
Well, I had one young person who couldn’t wait to start. I took Tucker there the next morning, and he’s going to start when the weather warms up in April. Could it really be this easy? Just to ask the local shop owner to get my child connected in our community to a passion he holds. I think so.
What if we all—kids, parents, teachers—started asking people who share our kids’ interests if we can connect them? I think we would all be surprised at how many people say yes. That’s what Charlie Plant and Elliot Washor can testify to. People do say yes, and even when there are no’s along the way, the yeses change kids’ lives.