He Doesn’t Want to Study
I wrote to you a few months ago with questions about homeschooling in Maui
County. I’m running into some issues, and I was wondering if you had some advice.
We homeschooled last spring semester, took a long break for summer and then started back the last 2 weeks. After the “honeymoon” period was over last spring, my oldest son started running into some problems. He’s very bright, a 2nd grader reading at 4th or 5th grade level. He loves to learn, and I’ve watched him in both public and private classrooms, where he has thrived. (We began homeschooling for more family time, and more quality one-on-one time, and educational opportunities.) Instead of thriving now, he is miserable. He takes 45 min. to do a simple language page, has a melt-down if I give him even slightly corrective feedback, complains and whines much of the school day. This is totally out of character for him. I am not that picky about his work, and constantly encouraging him. He is normally (and the rest of the day is) a happy kid who loves others and behaves very well. I have tried adding work to stimulate him, taking work away to take the pressure off. I’ve tried positive and negative reinforcement (time-outs to stickers, etc.) when he behaves like this. Now, I’m totally out of ideas. We don’t have a lot of options here, and this really needs to work, but this cannot go on. My other son is normally the distracted one, and he has been an angel – working hard and excelling every day.
I’ve searched on-line for help and I have 5-6 books at home on homeschooling, and no real solutions. Do you have any suggestions?
Thank you for your time (I know it’s precious) and God
Gosh, I’d love to come meet your family and see for myself what’s happening! But on the basis of what you’ve written, I’ll tell you what I think. But what I think is based on my assumptions about kids and learning and I can appear pretty extreme in my views sometimes and if they are too out there, I hope they don’t offend.
First, homeschooling in a hierarchical way rarely works in the short run and does little to inspire life long learning. When the parent (or teacher or government) has too much say about what is learned, when or how, then the child has all the disadvantages of school (being controlled) and none of the advantages (lots of kids around). Statistics show that the best results come from responding to the child and his call for knowledge. Which, of course, can’t be done in a classroom of 30 kids but can be at home.
Secondly, grade levels are artificial groupings of kids for the sake of keeping schools organized. Adults are all over the place in their knowledge and nobody worries about their grade levels. A child might be reading books most adults couldn’t begin to comprehend (on computers, for example) and yet seem slow on other things….like math maybe. Read the article Marilyn vos Savant (columnist with the highest recorded IQ of any person) wrote about the child who just can’t get math or any other subject and what to do about it (click here for article) and my article “Our Bodyboarding and Rollerblading Curriculum.” (Click here for that article)
The only two times grade levels were important to us were
1. when our son wanted to go to school and wanted to be placed at grade level. Because he wanted to reach grade level, he ended up cracking the whip on me to work with him more! He needed no coaxing from me. When he took the tests, after about 3 months of study, he scored grade 12 +
2. when he got his GED, which is a high school diploma in Hawaii, he wanted to score in the “Elite 300 Club” (it’s scored differently now so the numbers don’t have meanings but it’s the idea). He could only miss one or two questions on each section to do that — an incredibly difficult goal. He was fanatical about studying and spent like 8 hours a day at it. I’d be trying to convince him to take breaks and he wouldn’t. This from a kid who had only wanted to rollerblade and bodyboard! He scored 322, well into the “300 Club”.
Conclusion: when it was important to him, he needed no external motivation.
Along these lines, there is a book, “Punished by Rewards.” The title tells it all. I don’t believe there is any reason to study anything except if one wants to learn about that subject for ones own use. When we have a need or desire to learn something, nothing can stop us. When we are being forced (with rewards or punishments), it can be sheer drudgery. Similarly, doing the right thing. We do the right thing (be generous or kind or whatever) because it’s the right thing to do. Not because of any gain we’d get for doing it or consequence from not doing it. If your child decides at age 16 or 35 or 65 to be a (fill in the blank), she will do what needs to be done and learn what needs to be learned to accomplish that goal. If she learns higher math in high school but goes into a field that doesn’t need it, she will forget it all and that time could have been better spent.
Your son might also enjoy a structured approach that is somewhat school-like. Mine was like that. He would ask for check lists so he could mark off what he’d done and feel he’d accomplished something. But what went on the lists to do were his idea, not mine or the governments. Our son didn’t (and still doesn’t) like to be taught or corrected. When he asks me how to spell a word, he just wants the spelling and gets really irritated if I try to give him a rule so he’ll do better the next time. But his spelling has improved greatly doing it his way and is now as good or better than most of his schooled peers. And he’s a wonderful writer.
What I’d suggest is that you sit down with your son and ask him what he thinks is going on and what he thinks would work and what he wants to learn about and when and where he wants to study. We mostly studied on days of no surf. Or rainy days. Sometimes outside in the woods. Yet, when he did go to school at age 16, he got all As except one B in auto shop for a sloppy notebook. He couldn’t see the point of keeping a note book of which tool to use at what time when the information was so readily available online (not to mention he was not going to be an auto mechanic!). So I’d give him an A in that class, too, for his integrity.
I hope this helps. At very least, it’ll be food for thought.